Talk about pressure: You're a 37-year-old female commoner with a father-in-law who's an emperor. On your shoulders rests the future of a 2,600-year-old dynasty. After eight years of marriage and a publicly announced miscarriage you get pregnant again and ... and ... you deliver a baby girl! A girl? In most families, any healthy baby means Joy City. In Japan, however, a royal girl's birth creates--how shall we say it?--a challenge. It seems that a 1948 (male-written) law permits only males to ascend the throne. For now anyway.
The chatter for change, within hours of the much-anticipated weekend birth, reveals some significant pressures within a nation that is both modern and ancient. Changes in Japan come slowly, so slowly that when they occur they don't seem like changes at all. When Princess Masako, for instance, became the wife of Crown Prince Naruhito she was an uncommon commoner, a former diplomat educated at Oxford and Harvard. The hopes that an accomplished, quadrilingual woman would radically speed Japanese democratization and improve the social status of millions of underpaid Japanese women have gone largely unfulfilled, although glacial changes do continue.
"Dynamic" is not a word ever used to describe the Imperial Household Agency, the ancient, powerful bureaucracy that keeps the royal family carefully cloistered and controlled in its palaces. After the birth of the baby, nameless until 67-year-old Emperor Akihito picks one next weekend, the secretive agency released the following quote from the obviously excited new grandpa: "It is good that the birth went well."
Some Americans, whose royalty tends to the expendable box-office variety, have trouble grasping the psychological and symbolic social power of a royal continuum. If Princess Diana felt constrained by British royal life, imagine Crown Princess Masako as the designated heir-maker for a legendary dynasty that goes back 125 generations directly to mythology and the sun goddess Amaterasu.
A newspaper in a throneless American nation less than 10% the age of Japanese society can hold no claim to expertise in royal heirs or heiresses. We would point out, however, that about 10 women actually have occupied the Chrysanthemum Throne and current public opinion polls indicate another is acceptable.
For now, we like to picture--symbolically, of course--a bleary-eyed crown prince and crown princess in their castle changing diapers like the rest of us. That's not what royalty usually does, but, however glacially, royalty in Japan may be changing.