This week, after 26 years of waiting, Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan finally ascended the throne, assuming the position he had waited his whole life to accept.

It was a profound, deeply symbolic moment for the Chrysanthemum Throne and was marked with incredible ceremonial procedure.

Shame that his wife Crown Princess Masako was not there to see it.

As a woman, she was not allowed to witness the ascension ceremony and nor was her 18-year-old daughter Princess Aiko.

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Aiko should for all intents and purposes now become the Crown Princess. Like Prince George in the UK or Prince Christian of Denmark, Princess Mary's oldest child, Aiko should technically now be one step closer to the throne herself. However, as a woman, Aiko will never assume the throne.

Under Japanese law, only a man can be named emperor.

Japan's rules around succession stand in direct opposition to the slew of countries that have amended laws to allow women to rule. Currently, the future monarchs of Sweden, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain are all young women. (We can all look forward to a princess-aissance in about 10 years.)

Japan's new Emperor Naruhito, accompanied by new Empress Masako, makes his first address during a ritual after succeeding his father, Akihito, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Photo / AP
Japan's new Emperor Naruhito, accompanied by new Empress Masako, makes his first address during a ritual after succeeding his father, Akihito, at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Photo / AP

This is still the case despite the Japanese royal family facing an imminent succession crisis: There are 16 members of the clan who can perform royal duties and 13 of them are women. Uh oh.

Princess Aiko faces a stark future that highlights the deep gender inequality that still exists in the royal household.

Most significantly, should she marry a commoner, she will be stripped of her title and access to the family's fortune. But here's the real kicker: There are no more men of noble birth in Japan.

Essentially, she's damned if she does and damned if she doesn't.

Princess Aiko poses for photos as she attends her graduation ceremony at the Gakushuin Girls' Junior High School in Tokyo in 2017. Photo / AP
Princess Aiko poses for photos as she attends her graduation ceremony at the Gakushuin Girls' Junior High School in Tokyo in 2017. Photo / AP

For more than a decade, the royal family has been "losing" female members at a rapid rate.

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For these members of the Imperial Household, life outside the palace walls is a world away from the privileged existences they have enjoyed since birth.

In 2005, Princess Sayako, Aiko's aunt, married a commoner in front of just 30 people. In preparation for her new life, she had to be taught how to drive and was taken to a supermarket and taught how to shop. She had no choice but to relinquish her title and allowance and moved out of the fabled Imperial Palace for life in a regular Tokyo apartment.

Sayako was also given a relatively paltry US$1.2 million dowry despite the Imperial Household living on an annual budget of about US$377 million.

There are many women in the royal family. Photo / AP
There are many women in the royal family. Photo / AP

Last year, Princess Ayako, Aiko's cousin, married her boyfriend Kei Moraya, a longtime employee of a shipping firm. Gone was her title and elevated place in society.

Then there's Princess Aiko's aunt, Princess Mako who has been dating Kei Komuro, a law student renowned in the Japanese press for his shaggy haircut. If and when the couple does tie the knot, Mako will similarly renounce her place in the royal household and all of the privilege that comes with it.

Japan's Princess Mako arrives at the Imperial Palace to greet Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko in Tokyo. Photo / AP
Japan's Princess Mako arrives at the Imperial Palace to greet Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko in Tokyo. Photo / AP

All of which means Princess Aiko faces a severely limited future in terms of her choices.

Should she choose to marry a commoner, she faces losing her royal standing and taking a significant cut in her living standards. But, there is no one else for her to marry.

The only way for her to maintain the status quo is for her never to wed. Either way, her adult life will surely be marked by significant loss, imprisoned by rigid rules.

There are suggestions the pressures and strictures of royal life might already be taking their toll on Aiko.

In December 2016, when official photos were released to mark her 15th birthday, the Japanese public was shocked by her gaunt appearance. The same year she had nearly two months off school due to an unspecified illness, leading many to speculate she was suffering from an eating disorder. (For nearly 20 years, her mother Princess Masako has been fighting "stress-related" mental health issues and, for much of that time, was missing from public life.)

Japan's new Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako are driven to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Photo / AP
Japan's new Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako are driven to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Photo / AP

In recent years, there have been renewed calls for the Japanese government to reform imperial law and allow female monarchs to rule. (There is historical precedent with the last woman ruler being Empress Go-Sakuramachi who abdicated in 1771, and the rules were only changed after World War II.)

While public sentiment is strongly in favour of the move, the New York Times has reported the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abo shows little indication it is considering changing things.

As it stands, Aiko's 12-year-old cousin Prince Hisahito looks set to succeed from the new Emperor Naruhito.