Discussion of Imperial succession must begin without further delay

It is inevitable to squarely address the issue of Imperial succession to maintain the Imperial family system in future years. The government and the Diet are urged to swiftly deepen the discussion.

A government advisory panel discussing ways to ensure a stable succession to the Imperial throne has compiled a final report and submitted it to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The report presents two main plans to secure the number of Imperial family members: One is to let female members stay in the Imperial family after marriage, and the other is to use adoption, which is currently not permitted for Imperial family members, to restore Imperial status to members of former Imperial family lines.

The Imperial family today consists of 17 members, including the Emperor and the Emperor Emeritus. Under existing law, female members lose their Imperial status upon marriage. For example, Mako Komuro, the eldest daughter of Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko, recently lost her status when she got married. The number of Imperial family members is on course to continue to decrease.

If the situation is left unaddressed, it will interfere with the implementation of the public duties of Imperial family members. The government is expected to report to the Diet the result of the advisory panel’s analysis early next year, and the ruling and opposition parties should promptly start discussions.

There remain quite a few issues that need to be discussed to establish a new system. Princess Aiko, the daughter of the Emperor and Empress, and Princess Kako, the younger daughter of Crown Prince Akishino, have led their lives under the current system. It needs to be discussed how to take into consideration the feelings and intentions of female members of the Imperial family.

As for the possible reinstatement of former Imperial family members, descendants of the 11 families who lost their Imperial status in 1947 are being eyed. However, it is not known whether any of these descendants wish to return to the Imperial family.

Revisions to the Imperial House Law and other procedures will be necessary to create a system based on the two proposed plans. Above all, it is essential to gain understanding from the public.

It was disappointing that the final report did not specify any measures to ensure a stable succession, stating only that “the time is not yet right for substantial discussions.”

The Imperial House Law stipulates that only male offspring in the male line belonging to the Imperial lineage have the right to succeed to the Imperial throne. Only three male members fall into this category. Prince Hisahito, the nephew of the Emperor, is the only one in the next generation.

The final report proposed that children of female Imperial family members who retain their status, as well as former Imperial family members to be reinstated, will not be qualified to succeed to the Imperial throne. Setting aside whether this is right or wrong, it leaves the issue of Imperial succession unresolved.

An expert panel set up by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi compiled a report in 2005 that proposed allowing a female member or a member in the Imperial lineage’s maternal bloodline to become an emperor. In 2012, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda released a list of issues, saying that allowing female Imperial family members to remain in the family after marriage and creating Imperial family branches with maternal bloodlines should be considered.

The topics that need to be discussed regarding the right to succeed to the Imperial throne are already on the table. For the Imperial system to continue, further postponement of a decision is unacceptable.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 28, 2021.