Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Thursday, 9 February 2006

Head to head: Japan's succession crisis

The debate over whether Japan should let women ascend to the throne has been re-ignited by the news that Princess Kiko, the wife of Emperor Akihito's second son, is pregnant.

A bill to allow female succession had been proposed in Parliament because no male royal has been born for 40 years.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has indicated he may no longer push the bill through.

Opinion polls suggest that the majority of Japanese people support the idea of female royal succession. But conservatives argue it could dilute the imperial line.

The BBC News website invited two readers, from different sides of the debate, to put their cases.


Yuki Iida
Yuki Iida says the royal family should adapt to modern Japan
It would be a breakthrough for our traditional society if women were allowed to ascend the throne in Japan.

Princess Kiko's pregnancy doesn't change my view of this issue. But it does make matters more complicated.

I'm not entirely sure which I place more priority on when it comes to the royal succession: gender or order of birth.

In public, you rarely see any female role models or real examples of female leadership. A woman ascending the throne would be evidence that women are equally capable of doing anything.

Social circumstances change with time and regardless of the history of the imperial family, so should Japan.

Allowing females to take the throne would break the tip of the iceberg that is our male-dominated society.

But since talk of a bill being passed, I have been thinking about the life for Princess Aiko were she to inherit the throne. One thing which concerns me is her future partner. European monarchs are able to marry monarchs from other European countries.

But, I wonder, who in Japan could cope with the pressure of being her consort? Is this really the best thing for her?

The debate here is about retaining the male line. That's not the issue for me. Nor am I worried about the dilution of the royal line.

I'd love to see her marry a "blue-eyed foreigner". I say, bring it on. It's a great way for Japan to welcome a new era. But that will never happen.

[The royal family] needs to modernise, adapt and stay relevant to today's Japan
Yuki Iida

Despite these reservations and recent developments, I'm probably still for having a female heir. I've lived in Holland, and they have a queen, England has a queen. I just don't see the problem with a female head of state.

The majority of young people are indifferent to the imperial family and I don't think they would mind seeing a female ascend the throne.

Our lives would not change even if the imperial family suddenly ceased to exist.

Times are changing. Women are gaining more rights. There are increasing numbers of female business figures, more female politicians.

The imperial family does have a role to play. It is a good substitute for lack of government action on important diplomatic issues. It is important to have a politically impartial head of state.

It has a symbolic meaning too. Royalty reminds us that we have a long history.

But it needs to modernise, adapt and stay relevant to today's Japan.


Shohei Kotani
Shohei Kotani says it is important to conserve Japan's traditions
I am very happy to hear that Princess Kiko is pregnant.

The imperial family symbolises the ideal of what it means to be Japanese. It is important to my personal identity.

We are at the brink of an important choice: to abandon at least one-and-a-half millennia of imperial continuity or conserve a remarkable legacy.

I am from the countryside and I was raised by my grandparents so I still carry these old values.

We should not allow women to succeed to the throne.

There have been discussions in Parliament about changing the succession law, but this can all stop now because we have a 50% chance of getting a male heir. For the moment, there is no value in discussing the succession crisis.

Japanese society is changing fast. I want to preserve the old Japan, those conservative and traditional symbols.

I am concerned that allowing women on the throne could loosen the social order. Society needs order, be it in the form of respect for seniority or male-dominance.

I feel as if the imperial family are my family, my local community, the whole of Japan
Shohei Kotani

And I feel that just like one's health, only once it is lost will the Japanese people realise how significant the royal tradition was.

Some have said that female succession could dilute the imperial line. While there may be no rational reason to maintain the line so strictly, for 500 years people have made efforts to conserve the system. Surely we must respect that.

I even believe that we should invite the old aristocracy back to take the throne if Princess Kiko has a girl. They could be brought back into the royal fold.

I do see that there are benefits to a female succession. It could be a positive message to all females suffering in male-dominated systems around the world. And of course I believe that both women and men should be given equal opportunities.

But a society with perfect gender-equality is strange because men and women are different by definition. They have different roles depending upon their respective aptitudes.

And it is not simply a question of gender.

Older generations, especially those who remember life before the war, have real affection and respect for the monarchy. Many of them risked their lives for it.

They don't want to see it changed and we must respect that.

I don't believe the ancient myth that we Japanese are the descendants of gods.

But I feel as if the imperial family are my family, my local community, the whole of Japan. The symbolic image of an emperor poised on the top of this structure is very powerful.

It provides a sense of unity for our country and if it didn't exist, we would be an artificial nation like the USA.

Japan female succession queried
03 Nov 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan panel wants women on throne
25 Oct 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan debates female succession
25 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific

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