Time for princess power in Japan

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"Japan ... launched a year-long study on changing the country's male-only imperial succession law to save the world's oldest monarchy from eventual extinction. The recommendation of a 10-member panel of academics and law experts selected by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's office could also ease the enormous stress on the crown princess to produce a male heir."

- Agence France-Presse, Jan. 25.

Dear Princess Masako:

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

So the Wise Men (and a few women) have convened to consider whether the Imperial House Law should be changed to allow a female emperor. How open-minded. Of course, this is under consideration only as a desperation move: Without a male heir to inherit the 2,500-year-old Chrysanthemum Throne, the unbroken line of succession might all come down to your 3-year-old daughter, Princess Aiko.

Forgive my cheekiness, but I had an idea about how you might handle this.

Diana's family got all the attention (still does, thanks to antics such as Prince Harry's dress-up games), and there seems to be no shortage of supermodels to marry the crown princes of Europe. But I've always thought of you as the Princess Like Us - thoroughly modern Masako, educated at Harvard and Oxford universities, speaker of four languages, negotiator of trade accords. When you chose to abandon your brilliant career to be swept into the feudal society of the imperial household, we feminists who grew up on princess stories understood the gravitational pull of both worlds. The feminist in us figured you had enough experience dealing with bureaucrats to take on the imperial ones; the romantic in us got all gooey when you said that Crown Prince Naruhito had vowed, "Masako-san, I will protect you for my entire life."

Of course, there were hints that this happily-ever-after plan might hit some bumps - the carping, for instance, after your first news conference as princess-to-be, that you had spoken 39 seconds longer than your intended. That you were, literally, weighed down with a 30-pound kimono at your wedding ceremony also didn't seem a propitious sign. Still, those of us who furtively read Fergie stories at the checkout counter and nurture dreams of Having It All liked to imagine that you could pull it off.

Then came your difficulty becoming pregnant - and, more to the point, your "failure" to produce a male heir, with its six-wives-of-Henry VIII echoes. But yours was also a 21st century tale about delaying marriage and childbearing and about the anguish of infertility. Anyone can only imagine what it's like to have an entire Imperial Household on your back about producing grandchildren. (Your husband, by the way, still seems a prince of a guy. I loved it when he told off the Imperial Household, complaining about the "move to deny Masako's career and personality.")

I was in the press corps on President Clinton's trip to Japan when you met Hillary Rodham Clinton, and I remember how intrigued your country was with our outspoken first lady. But you might want to consider the teachings of another prominent Democrat, Howard Dean. During his unsuccessful run for the presidential nomination last year, Mr. Dean used to conclude his speeches by pointing to his audience and telling them, "You've got the power." It struck me as a little too Oprah at the time, but as much as it might seem otherwise, Princess Masako, you've got the power, too.

The people are on your side. A poll by Japan's biggest newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, found 79 percent in favor of changing the law to allow a woman to be emperor, and just 4 percent opposed. If the courtiers and grand viziers and whoever else is running the show over there stop to think, they need you - or more precisely, your daughter - more than you need them. You need to dust off those old trade negotiator skills and deploy them on a subject even more important than semiconductors.

So: You'll consider allowing your daughter to take over. But only on the condition that, for now, she gets to enjoy being a girl. One reason that the empress question is so pressing, apparently, is that the formal training would need to begin as soon as possible. Now, I don't know much about what it takes to be a good emperor. But as the mother of two princesses myself, I do understand something about what it takes to be a happy 3-year-old - and it's not enrolling in emperor school. Help her have a normal childhood - as normal as possible, anyway - and do the emperor crash course later.

The American poet Wallace Stevens (he went to Harvard, too) was writing about death, not childhood, in one of his most famous poems, but its refrain might be a good guide for raising Aiko: "The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream."

If you were to help that come true, at least for a time, you could write a happy ending for a particularly modern fairy tale.

Ruth Marcus is a member of the Washington Post editorial page staff. © The Washington Post.

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