If you’re a woman and you marry they boot you out of the royal family. The palace is a dump inside. The Emperor is known as enigmatic and lonely. The royal staff is a pack of 1000 notoriously evil servants and spies who do everything they can to keep their masters sequestered. Oh and the kids get bullied at school. No wonder some of the family members want out.
We’re talking about Japan’s royal family and the announcement that another princess, 25-year-old Mako, is getting out the long shadow of the Chrysanthemum Throne. Which will mean the world’s oldest royal family now has only four potential heirs.
Mako is the eldest grand-child of Emperor Akihito and currently a doctoral student at International Christian University in Tokyo. She is marrying an aspiring lawyer named Kei Komuro. When the marriage happens she will loose her royal designation. She’ll also give up her royal allowance, but be able to pay taxes and vote.
To be clear, under the Imperial Household Law, which governs the succession of emperors in Japan’s monarchy, women are not allowed to reign on the throne. And women born into the royal family must officially leave it once they marry.
Mako’s 83-year-old grandfather is the son of Emperor Hirohito, who was on the Chrysanthemum Throne when Japan attacked the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. In the run-up to World War Two, glorification of the Emperor was used a justification for military aggression, but after the war General Douglas MacArthur decided to keep the defanged monarchy around as a way to unify Japan.
The Japanese Imperial law has a huge double standard in it. Akihito was the first Emperor to marry a commoner – Empress Michiko. Men are apparently allowed to marry low and still keep their high place.
Akihito is chief priest of Shinto – leading prayer to mythical ancestors and other gods representing things such as Sun, War, Rice and Agriculture. However, since World War Two this role is not officially recognized by the state. At his advanced age, Akihito now wants to step down and the Japanese need to pass a law to allow his abdication.
All of this is likely causing great consternation among the all-powerful Imperial Household Agency. It is more secretive than the Japanese intelligence organization. The agency, or Kunaicho, is responsible for administering the affairs of Japan’s imperial family, including the official duties and the ceremonies and rites performed by the Emperor. Which translates to enforcing an extensive list of codes, taboos, and rituals. The agency has never been accountable to the public and has tried mightily to censor any news about the Japanese royals. ”After (World War Two), the chrysanthemum curtain was opened,” said a former schoolmate of the Emperor. ”But the bureacratic curtain remains shut.”
Princess Mako’s engagement is creating a new debate over whether women should be allowed to sit on the throne in Japan, though Japanese Prime Minister Abe does not seem inclined to support change.