Economist: United Nations fails to stick up for the rights of Imperial female succession, drops issue as a “distraction” from report


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Hi Blog.  Off on a tangent this time, as is not in the habit of talking about the Japanese Imperial System (unless it has an impact on how NJ are treated in Japan, such as here or here).  But this time, check this article out from The Economist.  I will tie it into’s themes in commentary below.


Japan’s male-only emperor system
Imperial lather
The United Nations fails to stick up for the rights of empresses
Mar 19th 2016 | TOKYO | From the print edition, courtesy of the author

THE progenitor of Japan’s imperial line, supposedly 2,600 years ago, was female: Amaterasu, goddess of the sun. But for most of the time since, all emperors have been male. This has exercised the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Recently it concluded that Japan should let women inherit the Chrysanthemum throne, too.

It is not clear what Emperor Akihito, who is 82 (and has a hugely popular wife), thinks about this. But the Japanese prime minister blew his top. Shinzo Abe leapt to the defence of a male-only line, saying it was rooted in Japanese history. The panel’s meddling, he said, was “totally inappropriate”. Cowed, it withdrew its recommendation that the law of succession be changed.

Polls suggest that most Japanese would welcome a female monarch. A decade ago a looming succession crisis triggered a robust discussion, led by Junichiro Koizumi, then prime minister and Mr Abe’s political mentor, on whether to allow a woman to ascend the throne. But the birth of Hisahito, a boy prince, ended the debate. A draft law was quietly shelved.

Mr Abe does not share Mr Koizumi’s iconoclasm. An arch-traditionalist, he wants the male-only system preserved to protect the imperial bloodline. But in other ways he has been an unlikely champion of diversity since he came to power (for the second time) in 2012. He has cajoled Japanese firms into promoting more women and urged them to make it easier for them to come back to work after having children.

There is a long way to go. Japan is bottom of the rich world in most rankings of sexual equality. For the past month Mr Abe has struggled with the political fallout from a much-read blog post by a working mother angry at a chronic shortage of day-care places. Still, Mr Abe’s efforts appear to be getting somewhere. From April big companies will have to declare their plans for promoting women. The hope is that this will shame firms that overlook female talent. As for the proportion of board members who are women, it has inched up by a percentage point in the past year—to 2.7%.

The UN committee notes this progress but laments foot-dragging on other issues. Japanese women are still meant to need spousal consent for abortions, it says, even in cases of rape. Divorced women must wait months before remarrying thanks to an archaic rule designed to remove uncertainty over the paternity of unborn children. For most Japanese women, the question of whether or not some future princess can become empress is hardly pressing. But Yoko Shida, a constitutional scholar, says it matters nonetheless. It is, she says, a symbol of discrimination.


COMMENT FROM DEBITO:  What’s interesting here is not that Japan protested outside comment about their emperor system (that happens with some frequency), but that the United Nations took it seriously enough to drop the issue.  Pretty remarkable that the UN, which faces criticism for many of its human-rights stances, would be cowed by this. It only encourages Japan’s rabid right to become more reactionary in regards to international criticism — because oversight bodies will possibly retreat if the Abe Admin kicks up a fuss.

When I asked the author a bit more about the reasoning of the UN committee members, he said that nobody on the committee would discuss it with him.  He said he was told that it became a distraction from the report, so they dropped it. Supposedly they felt this was an issue for Japan, not the UN.

Wow, that’s awfully generous. I can imagine numerous countries making the same argument — this contentious point is merely a “distraction” so drop it. Once again, Japan gets geopolitically kid-gloved.  What’s next:  Japan protests UN criticism of its “Japanese Only” practices as “totally inappropriate”?  Actually, Japan essentially has (see also book “Embedded Racism” Ch. 8), but not to the point of the UN withdrawing its criticism.  Yet.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

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6 comments on “Economist: United Nations fails to stick up for the rights of Imperial female succession, drops issue as a “distraction” from report

  • Debito,

    You should write a letter the the UN about this and other issues. I think as the prominent representative of foreign rights in japan for many years that they will listen to you for sure. You need to do this for all of us.



  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Dear Dr. Debito,

    I’m glad that you brought this issue to the attention of readers.

    With your permission, I would like to offer an alternative narrative for these events.

    The UN report described in the Economist article is available in it’s entirety from the UN here;

    This represents a significant amount of reading.

    However, the points that I wish to make is these;

    1. This was not a UN report on ‘the discriminatory nature of the Japanese Imperial succession system’, but rather that it was a complete review of Japan’s progress after signing the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
    As you can imagine, a huge number of Japan’s other relative shortfalls in this area were also reported (and yet have received no media coverage nor associated J-Gov outrage).

    2. These reports are conducted by the UN at the specific request of member states. What outcome did the J=Gov reasonably expect when requesting the report? Why has that fact not been included in the current media narrative?

    3. The UN panel that investigated Japan and made the report was chaired by a Japanese human rights lawyer. This is not a case of ‘outsiders’ slamming Japan.

    4. Four other members of the report compiling team were Asian. This is not a case of the UN attempting to impose ‘western’ values on Japan.

    5. The Economist (as we discussed here at last year) was purchased last year by the right-wing Japanese Fuji group.

    It is my belief that that the Abe administration requested this report on Japan with a clear intention to manipulate the coverage of the results.
    The Abe administration must have known that the UN report would highlight (as it does) the lack of women in leadership positions in government and business in Japan, and therefore highlight the failure of Abe’s internationally touted ‘womanomics’ hot-air. Thus, this part of the report has received no complaint from the J-Gov, no coverage from the compliant J-media, and the Japanese public are unaware that the UN has marked Abe’s ‘womanomics’ as a failure.

    Instead, by highlighting the UN’s reference to the issue of Imperial succession, the Abe administration has totally controlled the narrative (which included UN criticism of Japanese forced and coerced sterilization of women and other discrimination befitting a third world country), and has falsely presented to the Japanese public and the international media, that this is a case of the ‘white’ ‘western’ dominated UN trying to impose non-Japanese values on Japan.

    Victim Japan mentality manufacture in action.

    Of course, to ‘save’ Japan from the impositions of UN cultural imperialism, the Abe administration is quick to take up Japan’s cause!

    Cabinet Secretary Suga said it was “absolutely inappropriate” to take issue with the Imperial House Law.

    So, to summarize, the Abe administration requested this report so that they could specifically control the coverage of it, with the explicit intention of painting themselves as the ‘protectors’ of Japan ‘under attack’ from outside forces.


    — I’ve just checked with the author of the article, and he says he’s unaware of The Economist being bought up by Fuji Network. I think you may be confusing it with The Financial Times being bought up by Nikkei, which you also reported to us.

  • “…From April big companies will have to declare their plans for promoting women..”

    Great, just like all the other declarations being made, UN Human/child rights etc…. Doesn’t mean it will become law or such companies shall comply. Hey we have plans…..just don’t ask for it when applying for a job! A plan is a proposal, it is nothing other than that. Same old smoke and mirrors….and deviation away from the subject at hand knowing it will not be raised again. Bad form you know!!!

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    And while I’m at it, the author of this Economist article mis-quotes Suga, and places Suga’s comment in Abe’s mouth.

    I was recently saying that the quality of journalism covering Japan has reached quite a low level, and here is a shining example; pour journalism, published by a news entity that is in thrall financially to Japan’s vested interests, propagating a false narrative of what has actually taken place.

    I’m not a journalist, but even I can use the internet to see that the UN has been misreported.

  • Douglas Meyer says:

    I think it is a distraction. Imperial lineage concerns one individual. Improving gender equality in Japanese society concerns the lives of over 60 million.

    — You are missing the point of this blog entry.

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