Panel must hasten discussions on stable succession to Imperial throne

What should be done about Imperial succession and the division of official duties? As members of the Imperial family are decreasing in number, discussions must be held promptly on specific measures related to these issues.

The first meeting of an advisory panel was held to discuss how to ensure a stable succession to the Imperial throne. Six members, including scholars and business leaders, are to interview experts on the Imperial household system and history, and summarize their talks.

Atsushi Seike, president of the Promotion and Mutual Aid Corporation for Private Schools of Japan, was elected chairman. With the aim of reflecting a wide range of opinions, women accounted for half of the six members, and the panel also includes younger people in their 40s.

At the start of the meeting, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said: “This is an extremely important matter that concerns the fundamentals of the nation. The government will firmly deal with the issue based on the discussions.” It is hoped that the panel will hold deep discussions to gain the understanding of the public.

The Imperial House Law stipulates that a male offspring of the male line belonging to the Imperial lineage shall succeed to the Imperial throne. With the change from the Heisei era (1989-2019) to the Reiwa era (2019-), there are now only three heirs to the throne: Crown Prince Akishino, Prince Hisahito and Prince Hitachi.

The panel is expected to discuss topics including the establishment of “female Imperial branches” to allow female members of the Imperial family to remain in the family even after they marry, and measures to reduce the burden of official duties on the Imperial family.

The Imperial family consists of 18 members, including the Emperor and joko, or Emperor Emeritus. There are six unmarried female members, and the law stipulates that if a woman in the Imperial family marries a person outside the family, she will lose her status as an Imperial family member. If the Imperial family continues to shrink in number, it will undoubtedly affect their activities in the near future.

In an additional resolution, the special measures law, which was enforced to realize the abdication of the Emperor in the Heisei era, calls on the government to consider such issues as measures to ensure a stable succession to the Imperial throne and the creation of female Imperial branches. Now that the series of events related to the change in era are over, the debate cannot be postponed any longer.

Regarding female Imperial branches, cautious opinions persist that they could “pave the way for future female and female-line emperors.” There have been eight female emperors in history, but all of them descended from the male line and there are no examples of female-line emperors.

There are also arguments over how far eligibility for female Imperial branches should extend among female members of the Imperial family, and whether their husbands and children should be allowed to be members of the Imperial family. It is not easy to draw a simple conclusion in these arguments because of the sharp disagreement between those for and against.

Some conservatives who value the succession by men in the male line want male members in the male line who lost their Imperial family status after the end of World War II to return to the Imperial family. In any case, it will be necessary to revise the Imperial House Law and other legislation, therefore discussions are expected to face difficulties.

However, if the decline in the number of Imperial family members continues while decisions are postponed, the existence of the emperor system itself will be threatened. With an eye to the future, it is important to calmly continue discussions from now on.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 24, 2021.