On Wednesday, Japan’s incoming emperor, Naruhito, will ascend to the throne a day after his 85-year-old father abdicates. And for the first time in centuries, a woman will be present to witness the enthronement, though that woman won’t be the new emperor’s wife. Satsuki Katayama, the only woman in the prime minister’s cabinet, will be in attendance to watch the ceremony, but the emperor’s wife, Masako, is not allowed to attend. Under Imperial Household Law, women in the royal family aren’t allowed to be in the room when the emperor receives the regalia representing his ascension.

Unsurprisingly, the law also holds that women aren’t allowed to reign, either. Any woman born into the royal family must officially leave it when they marry, leaving the imperial family with very few heirs. Prime Minister Abe’s government has, however, championed women’s empowerment, and pledged to discuss the role of women in the imperial family following the new emperor’s ascension. There is, however, major conservative pushback to giving women more power in the imperial family.

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Hidetsugu Yagi, professor of law and philosophy at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan, said, “If a female or the child of a female royal succeeds to the throne, it would be a major challenge. The imperial family would lose its legitimacy.” Despite these beliefs, the rule stating that the throne must pass through the male line of succession only dates back to the 19th century. In fact, in 125 generations of monarchs, eight women ruled as empresses when no adult men were eligible.

According to a poll conducted by The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest daily newspapers, the public is strongly in favor of allowing a woman to rule, with over three-quarters of respondents saying they would support a female emperor.

Even the new empress herself was forced to give up a career as a successful diplomat in Japan’s Foreign Ministry, in order to become a princess. Kumiko Nemoto, professor of sociology at Kyoto University School of Foreign Studies, says, “Her presence communicates with the Japanese public her sacrifice and reluctance an ambivalence at even being there.” Although many hoped Masako would come to represent a step forward for females in the imperial family, it appears progress is already being swallowed by tradition.

H/T: The New York Times

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