The eyes of the world this week were fixed upon Buckingham Palace and the British Royal Family's new birth. On the other side of the planet, just like the islands of Great Britain, the islands of Japan have a monarch as well, one who also serves as a symbolic head of state in a parliamentary democracy. Japan's monarchy is the oldest in the world, stretching back 125 Emperors to 660 B.C.. The Japanese term for Emperor is tennō (天皇, heavenly sovereign). Japan marks time according to the term of an emperor: Emperor Akihito succeeded his father, Emperor Hirohito, in 1989, marking the end of the "Showa" era, and Hirohito's reign ended the "Meiji" era. Just like Great Britain, Japan is also very familiar with nervous baby-watching.
The future of Japan's monarchy is in peril, due to strict Japanese law. Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako has no male child. The family has but one male heir, a boy born to Princess Kiko whose name is Hisato. Under the Imperial House Act, female members of the royal household cannot accede to the throne and may only retain their Imperial status if they marry other Imperials. Unfortunately, in the current family there are no young males in the family for a woman to marry, even cousins. Adoption is also forbidden. Thus, in order for the princesses to have families of their own, they must marry “commoners” and abandon their royal status. The law was not always this way; Empresses have ruled Japan before.
Today, however, the Emperor is still the symbolic head of state and the leader of the nation's Shinto faithful. Changing the rules would face fierce resistance from conservative political and religious leaders. The Emperor himself is forbidden from any involvement in government, so he must remain silent. Still, the difficulties are showing. Princess Masako apparently suffers from stress and depression that is so severe that it has become a public issue and kept her in isolation for over a decade, despite the fact that she had a distinguished career that includes degrees from both Cambrige and Harvard and proficiency in six languages. Just as in Great Britain, Japanese tabloids have targeted the royal family and publicize every small detail of their life, making scandals of school-age bullying of Princess Masako's daughter and other minor events.
Still, there are signs of change in the Imperial household. Hisato is the first child to go to a primary school other than the traditional Gakushuin, an institution built for the royals, while his oldest sister, Princess Mako, is a student at a liberal Christian university that is known for its diverse culture. The middle child, 18 year-old Kako, is even a member of a five-piece dance troupe at high school and sent the conservatives tabloids into a tailspin after photographers caught her dancing to a current K-Pop hit song.