In the course of the debate during the Koizumi era on whether or not the Imperial House Law should be changed in order to allow Aiko, the only child of the Crown Prince and his wife Masako, to ascend the throne as a female empress -- a debate cut short by the birth of a son, Hisahito, to Prince Akishino and his wife Kiko -- one lawmaker declared the plan to have a female emperor an abomination due to the sacred nature of the imperial line's Y chromosome (E).
Well, it looks as though the holy Y-chromosome adherents are going to have a run in with a determined opponent: a bureaucrat concerned that he and his successors might lose control of a part of the nation under their supervision.
In this morning's press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu revealed that Haketa Shingo, the head of the normally reflexively conservative Imperial Household Agency, has importuned Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko to lead a change in the Imperial Household Law to allow princesses to retain their nobility after marriage, making their children potentially eligible for throne. Currently, princesses who marry outside the imperial line -- which is all of them since the dramatic pruning of the Imperial line by the authorities of the U.S. Occupation to a pair of branches, namely the descendants of the Showa emperor and his brother, Prince Mikasa (still kicking around at age 95) -- lose their nobility.
Haketa's plea has a sound basis. Currently, the holy imperial Y chromosome is in desperate straits. While there are seven living heirs to the throne under the current law, only one, Hisahito, is under 45 years of age and only three, Hisahito, his father and the Crown Prince, are under 60.
On the other hand, the Imperial Family has been, for the last forty years, a prolific producer of daughters (the Yomiuri Shimbun has a helpful chart for all this on the side of its article on the subject here - in J only). There are currently eight princesses, six of whom are legal adults, the most recent addition being Akishino's eldest daughter, Princess Mako.
Fujimura, in his press conference, indicated that the government is unlikely to rush into revising the Law any time soon. He only spoke about the matter to confirm that the conversation had taken place.
Why this should be the top news of the moment, or of any consequence, is that pretty much alone among public institutions, the Imperial Family has performed flawlessly since the disaster of 3/11. The Emperor, not the Prime Minister, delivered a prime time address to reassure the nation in the aftermath of the disaster, the first time the Emperor had ever given an address to the country on live television. He and the Empress, despite their advanced ages and numerous health problems, have visited the disaster areas and displaced persons centers on numerous occasions, with the Crown Prince and Princess (a rarity in her case, as she normally stays cloistered inside the Crown Prince's Residence) and Prince Akishino and his wife performing similar public visits to comfort and encourage the survivors.
With imperial institution relevant again and with so many young women of marriageable age (the oldest, Princess Akiko, is 29), the bureaucracy, at least, has decided its time to dump the holy Y chromosome rigmarole and get the Imperial family's numbers up again.
One wonders whether one can hear the sound of black trucks with loudspeakers on them revving their engines...
Later - Reuters has noted the revival of the significance of the Imperial Family, if in a different context (E). Tip of the hat to Tokyo Times for this reference.