It was a formal and rather reserved farewell and one dictated by Japanese law: on Saturday Princess Sayako said goodbye to her parents – the Emperor and Empress.
The legislation dating back to 1947 says that a princess must leave the royal household if she gets married, and with wedlock out go her royal privileges – titles, financial benefits and palace. Princess Sayako’s trajectory is the opposite of her sister-in-law’s who is a commoner multi-lingual, Harvard graduate. Owada Masako had to abandon her old life the day she tied the knot with Japan’s crown prince. She faces a pressure countless Japanes Emperesses have before her: giving birth to a male child to inherit the crown. In Japan, home to the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy only males can accede to the throne. And there-in lies the problem. For nearly forty years now, the words “It’s a boy” have NOT rung out in the royal palace. On December 1st 2001 it was a girl, Princess Aiko, and as yet her parents who are next in line to the throne have not given her any sisters or more to the point brothers to play with. So what next? Some in the family have suggested crown prince Naruhito take on a concubine who might give birth to a boy. It would revive a past tradition which helped the dynasty survive 1500 years – Emperor Akihito himself is the grandson and great-grand son of concubines. But in 1947 that practice was outlawed as was the right of emperors to adopt a son. There is however another more obvious solution as professor Hidehiko Kasahara from Keio university in Japan explains: “Today’s royal family faces the risk of their royal blood dying out, I think it is more realistic to accept an empress by extending the male line to the female line to avoid such a crisis.” So could little Aiko be the new face of the Japanese monarchy. The public supports allowing women to reign and the government has voiced its openeness to change. With few options left the royal family may have to embrace gender equality if its dynasty is to survive.