Royal Birth May Open Japanese Throne to Women; but Not Necessarily Bolster Women's Rights
Byline: MARI YAMAGUCHI
The Associated Press
TOKYO - All who would be emperor of Japan must first enter the inner sanctuary of a simple wooden shrine, bathed in flickering torchlight, to commune with the sun goddess Amaterasu.
The unspoken assumption is that the visitor will be male. But now, for the first time in centuries, Japan is thinking of opening its throne to women.
During the more than 1,300 years that the ancient and venerable ritual has been performed, virtually all the royals have been men.
But the prospect of a woman on the throne, while facing surprisingly little opposition, hasn't yet led feminists to break out the champagne.
Experts say it isn't any sudden respect for sexual equality that is driving support for a woman on the throne, but a shortage of male candidates.
"We are discussing the possible change only because of the need to preserve the imperial family, which is totally isolated from the world in which we live," said Isao Tokoro, history professor at the Institute of Japanese Culture of Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan's ancient capital.
"It's not a women's rights issue," he added.
But it's a pressing one. The current heir, Crown Prince Naruhito, has been married to Crown Princess Masako for eight years, but only had their first child last month, and she was a girl.
Naruhito is 41, Masako is 38, and the birth has generated much talk of whether the girl, Princess Aiko, should one day assume the throne.
Surveys show more than 80 percent would approve. Guarded support has also come from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who has shown his own openness to women in power by including five in his Cabinet.
Japan has had eight reigning empresses. The most recent was Gosakuramachi in the 18th century. But in 1947 it passed the Imperial Household Law, which says only males can assume the throne.
Some opposition lawmakers have tried to turn the issue into a rallying point for broader social change.
"In this modern era, it is not desirable for our society to have a monarchy with unequal gender roles," said Kiseko Takahashi, an independent lawmaker who is a woman. …