ADOPTIONS FROM FORMER ROYAL HOUSEHOLDS WOULD STABILIZE IMPERIAL SUCCESSION
Japan must ready itself for an increasingly harsher international environment in 2022, the fourth year of Reiwa. In China, Xi Jinping will go all out to solidify his position as a lifetime emperor, while in the US Joe Biden will likely lose his majority in both chambers of Congress in the mid-tern elections in November. Meanwhile, with Russia expected to become an effective junior partner of China, Vladimir Putin will assume a hardline stance both at home and abroad.
Regardless of strong pressure from China and Russia and despite being possibly affected by America stepping back in the international arena, Japan must live each passing day as best it can as a responsible democratic leader, bearing in mind now is the time to tirelessly strive to transform our “Japanese-ness” into real national power. I would like for every Japanese to realize afresh what makes us Japanese is the traditional values our ancestors nurtured, overcoming a host of challenges and hardships as proud inhabitants of this archipelago over hundreds of generations. Accumulated Japanese-ness epitomizes our distinct national character. Cherishing that makes us even more Japanese, enabling us to unflinchingly walk our own path. Above all else, doing so makes us more resilient.
Japan’s primary characteristic is its evolution as a nation that has cherished an Imperial Family which has maintained an unbroken patrilineal line for eons. This is something unseen elsewhere in the world, a heritage we must treasure. Take China for instance. Various races with different histories, languages, and religions have in turn built successive dynasties, each prospering for a period and then collapsing. Xi speaks proudly of China’s 5,000-year history, but it actually is nothing but a succession of bloody revolutions, each emperor eventually losing the “mandate of heaven” when he was found “lacking in moral virtue.” Countless people have been brutally slaughtered—not just incumbent emperors and their families.
In marked contrast to China, Japan has nurtured a gentle culture in which each and every individual has been taken care of reasonably well. Our Imperial Family is the bedrock of our national character, but the circumstances surrounding it are not necessarily secure today. An underlying cause is the decision the American occupation forces in Japan made in 1947, compelling 11 royal households comprising 51 scions to renounce their membership in the Imperial Family in total disregard of the will of the Japanese people at the time. Seventy-five years have elapsed since then.
Those who survived as members of the Imperial Family have been blessed with many children in the postwar era. At present, however, there is only one teenage male member in the Family—15-year-old Prince Hisahito, who is the only son of Crown Prince Akishino, the younger brother and heir presumptive of Emperor Naruhito. (The Imperial Family counts a total of 17 members, including former Emperor Akihito and his wife Empress Michiko. Both retired in 2019.) Because female members must renounce their imperial status when they marry commoners, it is possible that Hisahito would have no other members of the Imperial Family around when he comes of age and ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne sometime in the next few decades.
Prime Minister Kishida’s Heavy Responsibility
Avoiding this unwelcome situation is the task the government has long been entrusted with. In this connection, a panel of experts recently put together a report. I wish to share it, as I found the December 22 report very well done.
The first thing to note is that the panel concluded Prince Hisahito is the one and only heir of his generation eligible to succeed Emperor Naruhito. The Chrysanthemum Throne having constituted an unbroken patrilineal succession over the 126 generations in the 2,700-year history of the Imperial Family now headed by Emperor Naruhito, I view the panel’s conclusion as quite appropriately based on the history of imperial succession.
The report has firmly established that Prince Hisahito will one day ascend the throne as the successor to his grandfather Naruhito. As to who will succeed Hisahito, the report stated that “it is far too early to discuss the matter in concrete terms.” As I earlier mentioned, it will likely be several years before Hisahito takes the throne. The enthronement of his successor would of course in turn be several years beyond that. It is self-evident that any discussion of who that might be is premature at this juncture.
But the left-leaning daily Mainichi Shimbun criticized the report in its December 23 “Fukabori” (“Dig Deep”) column entitled: “Government Panel Puts Off Imperial Succession Measures.” The daily was grossly mistaken because the panel did not in fact put off discussing the imperial succession. On the contrary, by specifying that Prince Hisahito will indeed be the heir to the throne when his time comes, the panel declared in effect that under present circumstances there is no possibility of Princess Aiko, the only child of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, ascending the throne, as is often speculated. The panel deserves credit for distinctly defining the way forward.
The panel provided three clear options for addressing the alarming shrinking of the Imperial Family: 1) female royals would be allowed to retain their status after marriage; 2) the Family would be allowed to resort to an adoption system, which would enable male off-spring in the male lineage of the now defunct royal households to restore their lost status; and 3) all male offspring in the male lineage of the former royal households would automatically be reinstated as members of the Family.
Option 1 has its own defects: if the proposed system bans giving royal status to male commoners who would marry female royals and their children, none of them would be eligible to succeed to the throne—although they would contribute to an increase in the total number of Imperial Family members.
Of the three options, I am for option 2, as it is aimed at male members of former royal households. As the author Tsuneyasu Takeda, great-great-grandson of the Emperor of Meiji, has often remarked on my “Genron” Friday prime time Internet news show, there currently are over 20 male-line males in these households younger than Crown Prince Akishino (56). Many babies have been born to former royal households in recent years, with the number of young boys in the male lineage having increased significantly.
In other words, there are a considerable number of male-line males eligible for adoption by the Imperial Family. They interact socially with members of the Family as relatives and are well aware how demanding their life can be. And they are also said to be prudent to the point of being extremely reluctant to say of their own volition if they want to have their status reinstated.
It should be the role of the government to be in communication with former members of the Imperial Family in order to assess which individuals or households would be most suitable for adoption. The government must also engage the Imperial Family in close consultations so adoptions could be implemented as smoothly as possible in an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual understanding. It is the responsibility of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to establish a solid framework of support for Prince Hisahito as soon possible.
America’s Plan to Weaken Japan
As regards the possibility of male members of the former royal households returning to the Imperial Family, some quarters oppose it on the grounds that these members have lived as commoners for over seven decades since the end of the war. Have they by any chance forgotten that retired Empress Michiko was a commoner? And so were Princess Kiko, the wife of Crown Prince Akishino, and Empress Masako. Didn’t most of us enthusiastically support their entering the Imperial Household, despite the fact that they were all commoners?
The expulsion of the former royal households was not what we Japanese desired. As mentioned earlier, it was ordered peremptorily by the American occupiers. A weakening of the Imperial system was one of the main pillars of the broader American plan to weaken Japan. Even after having been reduced to commoners, however, members of the former royal households stayed in close touch with their relatives in the Imperial Family. In light of the sharp decline in the number of Family members. I consider it only natural for some from the former royal households to formally return to the Palace in the form of adoption. It is time to break free from the curse of the American plan to weaken our country.
Prominent constitutional scholar Akira Momochi is strongly for option 2, too. Tracing the 2,700-year history of the Imperial Family, he interestingly notes that the Family has traditionally quite often adopted sons of royal households in order to secure the imperial lineage based on male succession. For instance, successive heirs to the four “Shinno-ke”—hereditary royal households comprising Fushimi, Katsura, Arisugawa, and Kan-in—were regarded as “yushi,” emperor’s adopted sons in name. Later, emperors formally recognized their position as imperial princes as necessary, enabling them to legitimately take over the respective households. In the absence of an appropriate heir to any of the four households, emperors would allow their own sons to be adopted as a means of preventing the households from becoming extinct.
It is quite intriguing to realize, as Momochi points out, that seven of the past heirs to the Katsura family, which lasted 11 generations over some 250 years until the mid-19th century, were sons of emperors who had been offered for adoption. The other three royal households also have had a history of adopting males who belonged to the imperial lineage.
Adoption is a commonly observed practice for preserving families in the private sector as well. There are a variety of ways in which infants, as well as adults, can be adopted. We should view this system positively as it relates to the Imperial Family and warmly welcome a group of new male members into it. We hope they will get to know Prince Hisahito well, serve earnestly as his advisors, and support him powerfully. I sincerely hope that the proposed adoption option will be adopted and thereby significantly help secure the peace and happiness of the Imperial Family and a stable future for our nation. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 982 in the January 13, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)