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Princess Aiko and the Imperial Succession Crisis of Japanese Throne

Princess Aiko of Japan

Japan is one of the remaining constitutional monarchies in the world that still follows the archaic law of patrilineal, male-only succession. 

The Japanese government officials and its prime minister's inability to repeal the ancient succession law, which is discriminating to women and the women's capability to rule an empire, made Japan still primitive despite projecting a global image of modernity.

Only three men are in the line of succession to the Chrysanthemum throne of Japan

Succession crisis urgency

Following World War II, the Imperial Household Laws of 1947 established that the line of succession will be limited to the male descendants of Emperor Hirohito, removing female descendants from the line of succession.

The IHL also required the imperial princesses who will marry commoners to give up their titles and leave the imperial family to become ordinary citizens. 

These circumstances further shrunk the number of heirs of the Chrysanthemum throne who are eligible to succeed. As of August 2021, there are only three heirs who are eligible to succeed Emperor Naruhito: His younger brother, Fumihito, Prince Akishino (55 years old), his nephew (son of Fumihito) Prince Hisahito (14 years old), and his uncle (the younger brother of Emperor emeritus Akihito), Masahito, Prince Hitachi, 85 years old and have no children.

With this, the Japanese monarchy is facing a looming succession crisis and the possibility of its extinction if the DIET (the Japanese parliament) would not make any move to establish a stable law of succession. 

Emperor Naruhito, Empress Masako and their only child Princess Aiko

Emperor Akihito began his reign in 1989 but due to health reasons he abdicated in May 2019 in favor of his eldest son, Naruhito. 

Akihito and his empress, Michiko, have two sons: Naruhito, Fumihito and a daughter, Sayako, who lost her princess title when she married a commoner in 2005. She was also required to leave the imperial family upon marriage, reducing to a status of a commoner.

Crown Prince Naruhito got married in 1993 to a Japanese diplomat, Masako Owada, a Harvard University graduate. However, only in 2001 that the Crown Princess gave birth to their only child, Princess Aiko.

The birth of a daughter gave further pressure on the imperial family as it would mean Naruhito would not have an heir-apparent. Princess Masako, after suffering miscarriages, has not gotten pregnant since then.

Prince Fumihito, who married ahead of his older brother, has two daughters, Princess Mako and Princess Kako, which prompted Japanese government officials to convey in 2005 to repeal the succession law so that female members can succeed the throne.

Attempt to change the succession law

In October 2005 when it was realized Crown Princess Masako could no longer provide the throne with a male heir, a government-appointed panel of experts submitted a report recommending to change the succession law, from agnatic primogeniture to absolute primogeniture, so that Princess Aiko could succeed her father.

The Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Japan and their only son, Prince Hisahito

However, less than a year later, in September 2006, the sister-in-law of Crown Prince Naruhito, Kiko, Princess Akishino, the wife of Prince Fumihito, gave birth to a son, Prince Hisahito. 

The birth of a male child means the throne has an heir-apparent. 

The discussion to alter the succession law was effectively dropped and on the following year, the traditionalist Japanese parliament led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that they would no longer proceed with the proposal of altering the succession law.

It killed hopes and possibility of seeing the only child of Naruhito, Princess Aiko, to mount the Japan imperial throne someday.

The disinherited princess

Princess Aiko was born on December 1, 2001 as the only child of then Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako. Her name, Aiko, in Japanese means "a person who loves others". She has given an official imperial title of Princess Toshi which means "a person who respects others".

Aiko, the Princess Toshi

Her father, Naruhito, ascended the throne on May 1, 2019 following the abdication of her grandfather, Emperor Akihito. And in November 2020, it was formally announced that Emperor Naruhito's heir presumptive will be his younger brother, Fumihito, Prince Akishino. 

This move effectively disinherited Princess Aiko because she is a female and under the Japanese Imperial Household Law of 1947, Chrysanthemum throne can only be inherited by male descendants. 

Under the same law, female members of the imperial family who will marry commoners will be stripped of their princess title and forced to become commoners. 

Princess Aiko with her parents

This means that in the future, if Princess Aiko will marry a commoner, which seems to be likely because Japan already abolished its nobility in 1947, she will be furtherly removed from her family and will cease to be a princess. 

Such a sad fate for this imperial princess, just because she was born a female. It's still appalling to know that a country so prosperous and progressive as Japan still refused to recognize women empowerment.

Princess Aiko currently attends Gakushuin University in Tokyo, and just the rest of the students in many parts of the globe, she is attending online classes.

She is taking up Japanese literature and currently on her second year. She is also studying foreign languages, English and Spanish.

Both her parents are foreign-educated individuals. The emperor attended Oxford University in England while the empress attended Harvard University in the United States. Both are fluent in English and experts in foreign relations.

The imperial family taking a vacation at their Akasaka estate

Conservative DIET is the menace

So why the Japanese monarchy would not repeal its law of succession just like most monarchies in Europe? The answer relies on its very conservative and traditionalist politicians who refused to welcome the change of times.

The Japanese parliament still adhering to the ancient imperial ethos of giving the throne to male heirs only, and believing that male-line succession is a statement of stability and power. 

However, some experts on monarchy discussion blamed the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for wasting the opportunity in 2006 to make coherent decision on altering the law on succession.

And now, the current Japanese government is facing a dilemma how to secure the stability of the line of succession. Japan is the only monarchy in the world today that has only three heirs in the line of succession. A circumstance that might lead to its extinction. 

What makes it complicated is that the modern imperial throne of Japan does not allow having concubines just like in the old days and never accepts adoption of male heirs. Something that gives pressure to imperial wives to beget a son.

Another shot to altering the succession law

In March this year, the Japanese government officials renew its discussion whether to repeal the succession law to allow female imperial members to succeed the throne.

Crown Prince Fumihito and his family. 
Princess Mako, Prince Hisahito, the Crown Prince, the Crown Princess, and Princess Kako

The government's advisory panel was formed to tackle discussions among experts how to secure the imperial line of succession amidst the dwindling number of male heirs of the imperial family.

However, in reality, only Japanese government officials and the DIET (Japanese parliament) are blocking this must-needed change of the succession law because more and more Japanese are favoring the possibility of having a regnant Empress. 

Result of the poll conducted by an independent group revealed that 85% of the Japanese were favored of the proposal of altering the law of succession to absolute primogeniture.

However, the result of the discussion in the parliament reinforces the conservative views of the DIET to stick with the agnatic primogeniture succession, because these conservative government officials are skeptic on imperial princesses occupying the Chrysanthemum throne.

Final decision will be released this autumn 2021.

Other possibilities include allowing the sons of imperial princesses and extended male family members who descended from Emperor Taisho, the father of Emperor Hirohito,  to be placed in the line of succession.

However, princesses are still deemed not eligible to succeed.

The conservative government officials, who believed males should only inherit the throne, reasoned out that there's a better hope to look foward on the Crown Prince's son, Prince Hisahito, because he is only 14 years old. And might sire sons someday.

Empress Masako long bout of anxiety

For years, Princess Aiko's mother, Empress Masako as a Crown Princess suffered chronic anxiety due to the stress and pressure of providing the imperial throne with male heirs.

Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako

Less than two years after Aiko's birth, Masako disappeared from the public view. Reports had it that the Crown Princess suffered mental stress and must be kept away from the public to recuperate. 

When her father-in-law abdicated in 2019, many expressed worries on her mental health if she could carry the very stressful life of an empress consort.

But she surprised the public when she appeared calm and relax during the enthronement of her husband. Today, the empress consort acts as her daughter's emotional support as the princess prepares to take a very public life soon.

Public Life for Princess Aiko

The Princess Toshi will begin taking public roles when she turns 20 this coming December 1, 2021. She is currently attending online classes at Gakushuin University where she is on her sophomore year, taking Japanese literature.


Princess Aiko and her dog, Yuri

The princess is an animal lover. She has a dog named "Yuri", and two cats named "Mii" and "Seven". It has been reported that Princess Aiko will visit the Ueno Zoological Gardens in Tokyo soon. 

An elephant, sent by Thailand to celebrate her birth in 2001, has given birth in October at Ueno Zoological Gardens and the princess expressed her interest to see it.

Looking forward this coming autumn on the Japanese parliament's decision how to secure the stability of the Chrysanthemum throne's rule of succession. 

Still wishing Princess Aiko can succeed her father to the throne. 

Line of Succession to the Japanese Imperial Throne:

  • Fumihito, Prince Akishino (brother of Emperor Naruhito) the Crown Prince
  • Prince Hisahito (only son of Prince Akishino)
  • Masahito, Prince Hitachi (uncle of Emperor Naruhito)

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