- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
The Japanese emperor’s granddaughter, 25-year old Princess Mako, is set to marry a commoner — specifically, according to the Associated Press (and every online dating profile ever), “an ocean-loving legal assistant who can ski, play the violin and cook.”
Once Mako marries Kei Komuro, the legal assistant in question, she’ll become a mere commoner, as female royals must after getting married in Japan. Conservatives fear that changing the law to allow women to remain royal after marriage might lead the Japanese down the slippery slope toward allowing women to inherit the throne (there actually have been Japanese empresses, but conservatives argue their reigns were temporary and not a reason to allow a woman on the throne, as was made official in the 1889 Imperial House Law).
But Japan could be looking at something of a succession headache as it is.
In January, a government panel gave parliament the green light to allow Mako’s grandfather, Emperor Akihito, 83, to abdicate the throne. Japan’s cabinet is expected to approve a bill allowing him to do so this Friday. Akihito, whose tenure was marked by an effort to come to terms with Japan’s role in World War II — he visited battlefields and memorials, bearing witnesses to the ravages of war in Asia — would be replaced by his son, the Crown Prince Naruhito, Mako’s uncle.
But Naruhito and his wife are in their 50s. That leaves a thin bench. His brother, Mako’s father, next in line to the throne after Naruhito, and mother are in their 50s, too. Akihito has a brother, who is in his 80s, and Mako has a younger brother who is also in line for the throne — but he is only 10. Akihito’s other three grandchildren, including Mako, are female, and therefore ineligible.
Japan could, of course, take steps to ensure a robust pipeline of future royals, and the continuance of the 1500-year old throne, by allowing Akihito’s eldest granddaughter to remain a royal after marriage, and let her one day inherit the throne.
But the Japanese themselves aren’t even close to considering the idea of an empress.
On Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters, “There is no change in our view to proceed with consideration of steps to ensure stable imperial succession.”
Photo credit: MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images