Gender, media and succession abstracts

International Symposium

Gender, media and Japan's imperial succession

Japanese Studies Centre, Monash University


John Breen, International Research Centre for Japanese Studies

Ritual Interventions: Monarch-making in Meiji, Taishō and Shōwa Japan

Emperor-making in Japan is often understood as a three-act drama. Act 1 is the senso 践祚 rite in which the heir receives the imperial regalia; Act 2 sees the new emperor physically ascend the throne in the sokui 即位 rite; and in the concluding third act, the daijōsai 大嘗祭, he feasts on the first fruits of the harvest with the Sun Goddess, his ancestress. “Regalia transfer,” “enthronement” and “feasting” are universal acts in monarch-making dramas, and in Japan they can be traced as far back as the 7th century. Here I propose that the transformative moment in their long, complex history was the mid 19th century Meiji Restoration. In Meiji, enthronements were re-imagined, re-scripted and re-produced as new dramas for the making of an entirely new type of emperor.

In this talk I identify three conspicuous aspects of change, and explore the dynamics involved: 1) while pre-modern emperor-making was a private court matter, modern Japanese enthronements were staged as public events that defined the modern nation-state; 2) modern enthronements assumed a newly conspicuous “originary” quality, articulating as never before the myth that the imperial line originated with the Sun Goddess, so stressing Japanese “particularity” and “difference.” But at the very same time, 3) modern enthronements set out to dramatize the modern, internationally compatible character of the realm and its emperor. In pursuing here the dynamics of ritual change, I prioritize aspects of agency, place and discourse.

Yohei Mori, Seijo University

Defining the Role of the Imperial Family in Post-War Japanese Society

After the middle of the Meiji era, marriages of Japan’s imperial family members demonstrated to the urban middle class a new model for modern family life. After the abolition of the polygamy system, these imperial couples focused on each other and their children, as modern couple-centered and child-centered families. However, after World War II, democratization decreased the necessity for imperial members to serve as models for the Japanese people. The imperial family, which had been idolized by many Japanese as an ideal family, started to divide the country because of competing ideologies about marriage and the role of the imperial family.

For instance, the relationship between Princess Mako (27), the daughter of Prince Akishino (the Emperor’s younger brother), and her college boyfriend Kei Komuro exemplifies this divide. Their engagement is yet to be formalized because of debts that his mother has incurred. Conservatives argue that Komuro is unsuitable because he and his family lack the dignity expected of those who marry imperial family members. Liberals, on the other hand, consider marriage to be a fundamental right that even imperial family members should enjoy. In this talk, I examine how one camp wants the imperial family to be special and impose specific standards on the Japanese people while the other camp wishes to normalize members of the imperial family so that they may live their lives freely.

Ishida Ayuu, Momoyama Gakuin University

The function of media coverage of Japan’s imperial women:   Why does it attract so much national attention?

Japan's imperial news coverage exists as a journalism that people should know, not just a response to the personal interests of celebrity gossip, but as a “symbol of national integration” as stipulated by the Constitution. The female imperial family members today have a great presence in thinking about the Japanese emperor system; however only the emperor and crown prince are that symbol and the official role of the spouse, the empress, is not clear. This is because the mass media have reported the women royals more than the emperor and his successor who should have been the centre of public interest, and because people tend to pay more attention to female members of the imperial family. Masako, the new empress of the Reiwa era, is a former diplomat. Her future activities are expected from the perspective of “imperial diplomacy” with Australia and other countries, and the public will be more interested in reading reporting about her.

The continuation of the Japanese imperial family, while only males descended through the male line can ascend to the throne, will become more severe. Therefore, given the need for discussion of the role of women in the imperial family, this report takes a gender perspective to explore the reasons why Japanese media and popular interest in the imperial family have focused on its female members.

Emerald King, La Trobe University

Reading the garments worn by the Imperial ladies in the Reiwa accession ceremonies.

Amongst the pageantry of the end of the Heisei era and Reiwa accession, the women of the imperial court glistened in pastel suits and pill box hats. The subdued colours of their suiting, even the younger royals, is in distinct contrast to the high street and designer fashions of the young British and European royals. This talk will briefly consider the dress of the Japanese courts, examining the Reiwa pastels in context with other performative garments worn by the imperial household. Since the codification of formal western dress in the Meiji period, Japan has interpreted and produced garments that walk a delicate line between conservative ‘traditional’ mores and the demands of each new era.

This discussion will be supported through a systematic review of news reportage and a semiotic analysis of a selection of ensembles worn across this time period. Colour, cut and styles are never deployed lightly in the sartorial choices made by those in power. We will see how the use of these elements has been codified with reference to long standing traditions of colour theory and performance in Japan with reference to occidental and European styles.