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International royalsJapan

Debate over Japanese Emperor’s abdication turns to details about title and role

Japan is now poised to create a one-time law to allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate the throne in favour of his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, and so the official debate is turning to the finer details. In particular need of clarity is the appropriate title for a former Emperor and whether women should remain part of the Imperial family after marriage to allow for the continuation of the royal lineage in all cases.

Yesterday (Monday, 13 March) the ruling Liberal Democrats met with the leading opposition Democratic Party to decide the points to be covered by the abdication legislation before it is submitted to the Diet possibly as soon as late April.

Traditionally, the government only seeks approval from a ruling coalition just prior to submitting a new bill, but in this instance, the Democratic Party has insisted that the government provide reports on progress to the Diet throughout the process to them an opportunity to provide feedback.

Issues include:

  • The current Emperor’s title: the parties are considering the historical title for a retired emperor – joko. In this new position Emperor Akihito would remain a member of the Imperial family but what his exact public role would be is still undecided.
  • The title for the Emperor’s second son: when current Crown Prince Naruhito becomes Emperor, the role of Crown Prince will fall to his younger brother, Prince Akishino. The issue is that a ‘crown prince’ in Japanese culture refers only to the son or grandson of the emperor, which does not apply to Akishino.
  • Imperial finances: a traditional division in royal finances (between the emperor, empress, crown prince and family on one side and other children of the emperor on the other) means that consideration needs to be made as to how to redraw the division and decide how much money should be allotted to each family member.
  • The Imperial line: following the establishment of the legal framework there will be a shift in focus to the future of the Imperial line as, at present, only male heirs can become emperor. This has left many concerned about the future of the current Imperial family who may eventually lack candidates who meet this criterion.

Democratic Party Secretary-General Yoshihiko Noda is adamant that ‘the Diet needs to discuss different possibilities, including allowing women to remain part of the family after marriage’ and has urged the upper and lower house chiefs to reach a conclusion within one year. However, the Liberal Democrats have been hesitant to commit to discussing specific issues and have expressed their desire not to be bound by a deadline.