A tradition of gender inequality that ought to have ended a century ago has continued into the 21st century.
Some days ago, another pair of newlyweds from Japan moved from Tokyo to New York to stay. The husband had studied in the Big Apple, and was planning to practice law in the US, a profession where those of outstanding overall competence can do very well, as indeed is the case in India. Kei Komuro flunked the test on his first attempt at being admitted into the US bar, but is expected to sail through on a subsequent attempt, given his academic record. His wife Mako had met him years earlier, and the pair had fallen in love with each other and decided to get married. Kei said that he had only a single life and this he wished to spend together with the woman he loved. Photographs of the couple show them very much in love. Mako’s grandfather Akihito too had braved opposition and gone ahead with his decision to marry “commoner” Michiko, against the advice of several advisers of his father Hirohito, then Emperor of Japan. Subsequently, the determined couple went on to become the Emperor and Empress of Japan themselves. Had Akihito been a female member of the Royal Family, marrying a commoner would have meant the withdrawal of royal titles and privileges. That the longstanding tradition of gender inequality has continued into the 21st century is obvious from the treatment meted out to Princess Mako, the daughter of Crown Prince and Princess Akishino. She was stripped of Royal rank and titles because her chosen spouse is a commoner, whatever that means. Given their tradition of close family relationships, it is reasonable to assume that the Royal family may not themselves have favoured the formal banishment of Mako, but chose as they always do to obey the wishes of their retainers in the Imperial Household Agency. These worthies believe that change is anathema, even in a context where the absence of change may have toxic consequences, especially on global opinion
In the history of Japan not very long ago, there is an example of what can go wrong should the Emperor does not follow his own best judgment but rely entirely on the views of others, accepting their decisions. The 1937-45 war that Japan launched, first unjustly with China and later unwisely with the US, ended in defeat and in the destruction of several of the cities of what was the most developed country in Asia, and still remains so. Anecdotal evidence goes that Emperor Hirohito was opposed to the war, but was made to accept the launch of the conflict as a fait accompli because of the “advice” (read command) of his overconfident generals. Pearl Harbour answered the prayers of both Churchill and Stalin. The sneak attack on the US naval base by the Japanese navy on 7 November 1941 ensured that the US joined the war, not just against Japan but against Germany as well. This was triggered by the German Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, declaring war on the US hours after the Pearl Harbour attack. A psychotic, Hitler underestimated the resilience of the Russian people and the immense capacity of citizens of the US to make that country the “arsenal of democracy” during the war. Not entirely accurate, that description, as several of the countries Washington backed during the conflict were doing to other countries what Hitler was attempting to do in theirs. It was only when Germany attacked Britain that Churchill called on the world to rescue democracy from dictatorship. Churchill did provide unflinching and inspirational leadership to his own people, but when Mahatma Gandhi took the British PM seriously and asked that the professed democracy-loving British PM make his country quit India, he was met with incarceration. The experience of the Scandinavian countries shows the fallacy of the belief that harsh prison conditions deter crime. Jail in those countries is much closer to life as a free person than in almost all others, and yet the native populations of these countries are among the most law-abiding in the world.
No one would accuse the British royal family of racism, certainly not Queen Elizabeth. Yet that is the tag that has been affixed to them by millions after Prince Harry and spouse Meghan were divested of most royal titles and privileges. To the outside world, it seems that this is the consequence of Prince Harry choosing a girl of not entirely European ancestry as his bride. Harry has served in the army, gone to combat zones, got involved in public causes of value to the people, and overall has a very pleasing personality. The couple are, each in their own way, entirely a match for the other in terms of accomplishment, and yet the tolerance level in the Palace for Harry and Meghan seems low. After initial hesitation, the Palace reacted in a civilised way to Prince Charles and the love of his life, Camilla, whom he finally married in 2005 after having first tied the knot with a “more suitable” spouse, Diana Spencer. That the woman whom Charles finally parted with was extraordinary in her charisma was clear, but love has a way of ignoring such things, and in the case of Camilla and Charles, it is clear that theirs is an emotion that has endured. The rest of the Royals have done well to finally accept this. In the British royal family, women can and long have inherited the throne, and the penalty for a woman from the family marrying outside the circle of those courtiers regard as “suitable” is nowhere as draconian as in the case of the Japanese
The British and Japanese monarchs and their families are among the few survivors of a princely tradition that has ended across much of the world, including in India, where Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi ensured a cultural revolution. This was comprehensive where Indian society was concerned, beginning with the abolition of the zamindari system and going on to the abolition of privy purses and privileges of the royals who had trustingly handed over their kingdoms to Home Minister Patel in exchange for retaining a few of the privileges they had had prior to signing the Instrument of Accession. This pledge was thrown into the wastepaper basket by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The move was popular. Change in policy often is in a world where change itself is the only constant. It is 2021, time for Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako to do away with customs that fuel gender inequality. They should bring Mako back into the fold of the family. The Imperial Palace at Tokyo would win hearts across the world were they to abolish gender differentials within the royal family in the manner that their British friends have.