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March 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 3)
It's a Girl! And Perhaps
Princess Toshinomiya Aiko was born to Crown Prince Naruhito
and Crown Princess Masako on Dec. 1, the news was a welcome
respite to a country that has lately only known economic hardship.
Readers of the Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 29) cited the birth
of the baby girl as the years most memorable event in
Japan. In an editorial titled Sparks of hope in a dark
year, the newspaper wrote, This year has made us
sense that our country is in a critical phase in many respects,
forcing us to do some serious soul-searching....The birth of
a new life brings joy, and we know the public sincerely wishes
the new princess health and peace.
But the much-anticipated birth also sparked a debate over whether
or not the newborn should be second in line after her father
to the worlds oldest hereditary monarchy. Since 1889,
when the Imperial Family Law was passed, only male heirs have
been permitted on the throne.
The idea to change the chauvinistic clause has no shortage of
supporters. Japanese President Junichiro Koizumi, as well as
other ruling and opposition politicians, agreed that a legal
revision may be in order, but have urged caution in progressing
too hastily. The Japanese public too has supported the idea
of a female heir. According to a Mainichi Shimbun survey,
a whopping 86 percent of those polled believed the
Imperial House Law should be amended to allow females to ascend
the throne. Not surprisingly, support for an heiress was highest
among those in their 20s, with 91 percent approving the change.
But the voice that may have the most weight is that of 90-year-old
Princess Takamatsunomiya Hikikuko, who is the oldest member
of the Imperial family. In the Jan. 22 issue of Fujin Koron,
a womens opinion magazine, she expressed her support for
a change of the imperial succession laws.
In the past, female members of the Imperial family have
held the role of emperor, she wrote. If we thus
take a lesson from the long history of the Japanese, [we will
see that] a female emperor is not by any means an unnatural
occurrence. This is my very humble opinion. Princess Takamatsu
pointed to Englands past and present queens, Elizabeth
I, Elizabeth II, and Victoria, as examples of monarchies outside
Japan in which female leaders have flourished, bringing prosperity
to their country and people.
Across Asia, commentators also called for change, urging the
Japanese government to take the bull by the horns. Kwan Weng
Kin wrote in The Straits Times (Jan. 8), [H]ow
much longer can Japan afford to wait before tackling the inevitable
succession issue? Crown Princess Masako turns 39 this year,
casting doubts as to how many more children she can bear in