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20th Anniversary of the Emperor’s Ascension to the Throne Posted by on Nov 12, 2009 in Culture

Today is the Kokumin Saiten (国民さいてん) or the day of the Emperor’s Ascension. The official ceremony for Emperor Akihito’s ascension to the throne was held in 1990 on the twelfth of November. Today is the twentieth anniversary of Emperor Akihito’s ascension. In celebration of this event, there was a concert held at the Koukyo (皇居) or the Imperial Palace. Famous guests included politicians, singers, actors, actresses, and Nobel prize winners. The band Exile (エグザイル) was the last band to perform for the Emperor and the Empress.

The 20th anniversary of the Emperor’s rise to the throne is important because it establishes a long tradition in keeping with Japanese culture and history. Generally speaking the senso (せんそ) or the succession of the Japanese throne was alloted to the male members of the royal family. However there were exceptions where women rose to the throne as empresses. Japanese succession laws are complicated and have endured for over a century. Some of the laws that were established a century ago include the right of the emperor to have several wives. Usually the emperor would have a main wife and several secondary or tertiary wives. Sometimes the emperor would also have concubines in addition to the wives.

Usually the primary wife would come from a distinguished noble family (like the Fujiwara clan). If the primary wife was unable to bear a male offspring, the succession laws permitted the sons of secondary wives to ascend the throne. Japanese history is rife with the stories of multiple wives and ministers all plotting for the seat of the throne. Emperor Akihito is actually the first emperor to marry a commoner as opposed to a daughter from a distinguished noble family. This break of formality was possible through the repealed succession laws after WWII. Currently the Japanese Diet is responsible for the laws regulating succession.

If no suitable male heirs existed, women could ascend the throne as empresses. Of course this was in the past. Currently, women are prohibited from ascending the throne. Soon Japan may face a succession crisis. The only child of Emperor Akihito’s son (who will one day ascend the throne himself) is a girl named Princess Aiko. Since the current succession laws do not recognize females as heirs to the throne, she may be bypassed by another male member of the royal family to the throne. There has been a lot of controversy about whether Japan’s views on succession are in keeping with contemporary ideas about women, but as of now there are still no plans for any changes to the succession laws.

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