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Japan grapples with women’s roles in the imperial family

  • THE IMPERIAL HOUSEHOLD AGENCY OF JAPAN VIA AP
                                Japan’s Princess Mako, left, talks to her younger sister, Princess Kako, as they strolls at the garden of their Akasaka imperial property residence in Tokyo.

    THE IMPERIAL HOUSEHOLD AGENCY OF JAPAN VIA AP

    Japan’s Princess Mako, left, talks to her younger sister, Princess Kako, as they strolls at the garden of their Akasaka imperial property residence in Tokyo.

TOKYO >> Princess Mako, the eldest daughter of Crown Prince Akishino, married commoner Kei Komuro on Oct. 23. In accordance with Imperial House Law, she left the imperial family because she married. The couple is expected to settle in New York where he works as a law clerk.

Japan News-Yomiuri explored the functions of female imperial family members and the challenges the family faces in navigating tradition amid contemporary life. Here is an overview.

Responsibilities

There are currently 13 females in the imperial family. Seven of them, including the empress and the empress emerita, joined the family through marriage; the rest were born into the family.

The imperial family performs ceremonial and social duties, and women begin “working” for the family at age 20. In addition to participating in traditional palace events, they attend formal state banquets and travel to promote international friendships. In 2018, for instance, Mako visited Brazil to mark the 110th anniversary of Japanese to Brazil.

Allowances

Living expenses for family members are paid by the government, with budgets set by the Imperial House Economy Law.

The total annual budget for “inner court members” such as the emperor and his family is $2.8 million. Other family members receive an allowance calculated in units of $267,000, depending on the rank of the individual. Crown Prince Akishino, younger brother to the emperor and first in line to the throne, receives $801,000.

Mako received $26,700 annually as a minor and $80,100 after adulthood.

A lump-sum allowance is paid to a woman who marries and leaves the imperial family. Mako was due about $1.3 million but turned it down.

Attrition

With Mako’s departure, there are five women and a total of 17 members in the family.

Mako’s brother, Prince Hisahito, 15, is the only member besides their father eligible to ascend to the throne. Growing the family is a pressing priority, and a government panel dedicated to the situation offered two options.

One is for princesses to stay in the imperial family after marrying. This would, however, create family branches led by female members and possibly an empress as head of the family or an emperor from a female line. All of this goes against tradition.

The other option is adoption, which would sustain an all-male imperial blood line. It would enable the family to adopt male descendants from all-male lines in 11 family branches that were removed from the imperial family record after World War II.

The panel is continuing its research.

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