Future of the Japanese Throne Unknown as New Emperor Takes Power

Future of the Japanese Throne Unknown as New Emperor Takes Power

By Timothy Nerozzi

May 4, 2019

Today, Naruhito, son of former Emperor of Japan Akihito, made a series of public appearances outside the royal palace. The speeches he delivered were for the benefit of Japanese citizens and tourists wishing to catch a glimpse of the elusive Imperial Family.

His ascension to the throne has thrown the perilous position of the Imperial Household’s future into the global spotlight.

A sparse availability of heirs and a growing demand for gender equality in choosing rulers could mean widespread reforms on imperial succession in the near future. Some calls for an expansion of the aristocracy in Japan to include titles that were abolished as part of post-1945 reforms.

Flanked by his wife, Masako, and younger brother, Fumihito, Naruhito gave a series of short speeches to tens of thousands of visitors. Each address to the crowd lasted less than ten minutes, and alluded mostly to promises of representing the Japanese public well.

Throughout the speeches, observers applauded loudly and waved handheld Japanese flags that had been handed out by officials. Thousands snapped photos on smartphones and digital cameras – an action that just half a century ago would have been unthinkable.

Several men in the crowd shouted enthusiastically “Tennoheika banzai!” – roughly translated as “Long live the Emperor!”

As it currently stands, only male family members can ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne. Following standard monarchical practice, preference is given to the eldest born son of the current monarch.

There are currently only two more male successors in line for the throne – the younger brother of Naruhito and heir presumptive, Fumihito, and his middle-school-aged son, Hisahito, who is expected to be the next ruler.

Public opinion has begun to favor allowing female members of the family to claim the throne – a move that the Imperial Household Agency, the political retainers of the imperial family and the ones in charge of policy surrounding the office seem opposed to.

Conservative politicians in the Diet of Japan have also made it clear that they would not support such a change.

The Liberal-Democratic Party, Shinzo Abe’s conservative political affiliation and the undisputed dominant force in Japanese politics, has instead offered solutions such as re-expanding the Imperial Family. After World War II, entire branches of the family tree were cut, revoking any royal status or claim to the throne.

The audience at Naruhito’s speech was overwhelmingly Japanese with foreigners of various nationalities interspersed throughout. Citizens of all ages attended. Some fathers carried their children on their shoulders.

“I’ve never seen an emperor in person before,” an elderly man told AMI. He had come to see the speech alone.

Family members make appearances at ceremonies and national events when expected. The Emperor also performs ceremonial political actions, such as the awarding of honors and the greeting of foreign ambassadors. Other than these official affairs, the royal family stays away from media and rejects personal celebrity.

The office of the Emperor of Japan has been a strictly ceremonial role since the end of World War II. Occupying American forces crafting the new Japanese constitution, specifically wrote the monarchy out of legal and political proceedings.

As of now, the Constitution of Japan refers to the Emperor as “the symbol of the State and the unity of the people.”