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Japan’s Prince Tomohito dies

Prince Tomohito of Mikasa
Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, the eldest cousin of Emperor Akihito, succumbed to cancer, Wednesday, June 13. He was 66.

The prince, a self-confessed alcoholic and the most opinionated member of the Japanese Imperial Family, was known for his fierce opposition of letting a female inherit the Chrysanthemum Throne.

He prince was plagued by health problems since the 1990s. In 1991, he was operated for cancer-related ailment, and battled alcoholism half his life. In March this year, he underwent surgery to remove the cartilage the blocked his throat after complaining of his difficulty swallowing.

Prince Tomohito, born June 5, 1946 was the eldest son of Prince and Princess Mikasa. Dubbed as the “Bearded Prince,” he was the first member of the Imperial Family to sport a full beard after Emperor Meiji.
The prince finished at the Faculty of Law at Gakushuin University in 1968 and proceeded to Magdalen College in Oxford.

In 1980, he married Princess Tomohito, the former Nobuko Aso, the third daughter of Takakichi Aso, chairman of Aso Cement, and his wife Kazuko, daughter of former Prime Minister Shigero Yoshida and sister of another prime minister, Taro Aso.

The couple had two daughters, Princess Akiko and Princess Yoko.

The prince held a position at the organizing committee of the Sapporo Winter Olympics in 1972, as well as of the Okinawa World Fair in 1975. He also headed, in an honorary basis, a variety of organizations that supports cancer research (himself a victim), education, and international relations.

Prince Tomohito was open about his alcoholism, discussing it vividly during press interviews. He said that it began as a teenager, but intensified later as problems arose within the imperial family, according to media reports at the time. His dependency was an ongoing struggle. In 2009, he was hospitalized for alcoholism five times within a six month period.

The prince staunchly opposed letting a female inherit the throne. Although members of the Imperial Family were barred from intervening in politics, the prince stepped out to contend on the government proposals in allowing female sovereigns.

In his point of view, breaking with tradition and allowing a woman to reign would over time compromise the imperial family’s significance. Instead, he said Japan should consider other options that would ensure producing a male heir.  One of his proposed fixes: reintroduce concubines. In one private essay circulated to palace officials in 2005, the prince said:  “Using concubines, like we used to, is one option. I’m all for it, but this might be a little difficult considering the social climate in and outside the country.”

Ever the conservative, the prince even suggested bringing back former branches of the royal family that were abolished after World War II.


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