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Why Only Men?

As I discussed in my last post, the fact that six of the seven members of the Imperial family under the age of forty are women might be taken as a reason to allow women to become Tennō. However, the Shinto establishment is firmly opposed to this. Why?

Your immediate hypothesis might well be “Because they are a bunch of sexist fossils”. I have to admit that the evidence suggests that this may well be true of some of them. However, there are, in fact, better reasons for this position.

The Tennō has always been a descendant of another Tennō in the male line, going back to Jinmu Tennō in the myths. There are good reasons to doubt the details, most notably the fact that Jinmu Tennō almost certainly did not exist. There is also a place later in the myths that looks very dubious. A Tennō has no heir, and one of the nobles happens to find a couple of young men serving in the hall of a provincial noble who are seventh-generation descendants in the male line of an earlier Tennō, so one of them becomes Tennō. (No details at all are given of the intervening generations.) However, from the point at which the historical records become generally reliable, all the Tennō are descendants in the male line of earlier Tennō.

This means that, if your reason for preserving the role of the Tennō is to preserve the tradition, you should prioritise succession in the male line. That is the tradition, so if you change it, there is no obvious reason to retain a hereditary monarch in a democratic country.

Further, from a specifically Shinto perspective, the Tennō’s descent from Amaterasu Ōmikami is extremely important, and that descent has traditionally been traced through the male line. The eighth-century oracle from Hachiman Ōkami could be taken to mean that, from a religious perspective, a Tennō who is not in the male line is not actually Tennō. They would not have any of the religious significance, or be qualified to perform the rituals of the Tennō.

On top of that, it is worth noting that both women and men can be descended in the male line, as women do, typically, have fathers.

Nevertheless, the Shinto establishment is opposed to female Tennō. Here, it is much harder to defend their position, because there have been female Tennō. About a dozen, in fact. The most recent was in the eighteenth century, and most of them reigned in the seventh and eighth centuries, but there are plenty of precedents for a female Tennō. Indeed, Jitō Tennō, who seems to have established the main Shinto rites performed by the Tennō, was a woman. There is no way to argue that the Niinamë Matsuri must be performed by a male Tennō, because it was established by a woman.

Here, the “sexism” hypothesis is very hard to avoid. If we want to be generous, there are two alternative points that come to mind.

First, the Shinto establishment sees the system as it was established in the late Meiji period and sustained until the end of the war as the ideal, and in that system the Tennō had to be male. This is not a good reason, but at least it isn’t simple sexism.

Second, they may well be concerned that allowing female Tennō will inevitably lead to female-descended Tennō, because people will expect a child of the Tennō to become Tennō, even if the Tennō is female. This is a bit more reasonable, but not much. If the law says “male-line descent”, then that is what will happen, and changing it will not be easy.

So, given that the Shinto establishment is strongly opposed to the obvious solution to the problem, what do they propose? I will look at that next time.

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1 thought on “Why Only Men?”

  1. Pingback: Adopting Tennō – Mimusubi

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