- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

TOKYO Japan's newest addition to the imperial family, Crown Princess Masako's baby daughter, one day could succeed to the Chrysanthemum Throne, the world's oldest royal dynasty.
Although the law stipulated succession through the male line, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi indicated this month that the government should "carefully consider" revising it but not just yet.
But the role that the baby who could become Japan's 127th ruler might inherit is also in its infancy, in terms of the 1,370-year span of the historically documented imperial line.
It was carved out only in the 50 years since Japan's defeat in World War II and the formal renunciation of divinity by the baby's great-grandfather, Hirohito, in January 1946.
"Since the end of World War II, the role of the emperor has been changed," said Hiroshi Takahashi, executive director of Kyodo News agency and a veteran former royal correspondent.
Drafted by the U.S. occupation when some of its wartime allies wanted to try Hirohito as a war criminal, Japan's postwar constitution made clear the emperor had no political powers and his role was strictly limited: He was not even head of state or sovereign.
"The emperor shall be the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power," states Article 1 of the present constitution.
"The emperor shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in this constitution and shall not have powers related to government."
The 1947 constitution reversed the role of the emperor and subjects from the 1889 constitution, which defined the Emperor Meiji as "sacred and inviolable" and conferred full sovereign powers, including dissolving parliament, issuing decrees and supreme command of the armed forces.
"The sense of nationhood in Japan is almost entirely a product of the modern era, and nationhood was defined during the Meiji era in no small part as loyalty to the emperor," said Kenneth Ruoff, assistant professor of Portland State University and author of "The People's Emperor: Democracy and the Japanese Monarchy 1945-1995."
Known as the Kokutai (national essence) ideology, the image of the state as a family with the emperor as father figure who must be served and obeyed was used by Japanese nationalists to stifle dissent, often on pain of death, as they led the country from the self-imposed isolation of military rule by shoguns, ended in 1868, onto the world stage.
Despite hot debate over Emperor Hirohito's own role in prosecuting the war in the Pacific, there was no doubt Japanese bowed to the divine and absolute authority of the emperor invoked by the nationalist government.
But between 1192 and 1867 when Japan was controlled by military dictators, the emperors had no role in state affairs other than to serve as their puppets and high priests, a function derived from their legendary descent from the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami 2,500 years ago.
"Powerless as they often were, emperors provided supernatural cover for the tyranny of invisible men behind the throne," Sterling and Peggy Seagrave wrote in "The Yamato Dynasty," their collective biography of the imperial family.
For much of that time, most Japanese may not even have known that they had an emperor, Mr. Ruoff said.
"Bear in mind that before 1868, it is totally open to debate whether the average peasant had even the vaguest sense of the existence of the emperor," he said.
One thing the current constitution does not do, however, is tell the emperor how to go about his job.
Most scholars agree that boils down to a trade-off between the personal inclination of the occupant of the Chrysanthemum Throne and the bureaucrats at the Imperial Household Agency, who are the guardians of imperial tradition and ritual.
Although governed by the same constitution, "There has been a big change between Hirohito and Akihito," Mr. Takahashi said.
"The Showa Emperor [as Hirohito is posthumously known] was an emperor of authority and power; he was a divine emperor. Now the emperor has become a symbol. Akihito had almost the same education as anybody else, he knows a lot about people."
Raised as a divine figure, even as a mere mortal Emperor Hirohito was never able to shake off formality and get close to his people.
By contrast, Emperor Akihito, 67 who was tutored in English as a youngster during the occupation by the American Quaker and pacifist Elizabeth Gray Vining became the first member of the imperial family to marry a commoner in 1959.
In 1989, Emperor Akihito became the first emperor to hold a news conference, and in 1991, according to media reports at the time, he acquired the distinction of being the first emperor to insist on having his limousine stop for a red light, just like everyone else.
"I find it natural that the imperial family should not exist at a distance from the people," Emperor Akihito once said.
"He is ready to go down to the same level as the people, which never occurred with the former emperor," said Mizuo Osuga, a political journalist and royal watcher.
Nowhere was that more graphically demonstrated than when the imperial couple knelt during a visit to Kobe in 1995 to pray with survivors of the devastating earthquake that killed 6,432 persons there.

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