Parties Divided over How to Boost Imperial Family Size; Talks on Qualifications for Throne Could Divide Them Further 

The Yomiuri Shimbun  
Representatives of the ruling and opposition parties attend talks on increasing the size of the Imperial family in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Friday. 

With discussions on increasing the size of the Imperial family gaining momentum among the ruling and opposition parties, they have been divided on how exactly to do so.

All parties generally share a sense of urgency in securing sufficient Imperial family members to support the Emperor. The question is whether the parties can agree on the design of certain systems, such as how to treat the children of female family members if they retain their Imperial status after marriage.

2 main plans

Speaker of the House of Representatives Fukushiro Nukaga expressed his desire on Friday to reach a quick consensus on measures to ensure a stable Imperial family size.

“With the Diet’s collective will, we are at the starting point to consolidate our opinions. We will continue to work toward a national consensus,” he said. He made the comments at a press conference at the official residence of the speaker of the House of Representatives after talks among representatives from ruling and opposition parties.

Also on Friday, Nukaga indicated that the government plans to move forward with discussions based on a report released in December 2021 by a panel of government experts.

Two plans were presented in the panel’s report: allowing female members to retain their Imperial status after marriage and allowing the current Imperial family to adopt male members in the male line of former Imperial family branches that had lost their status.

The Liberal Democratic Party, its coalition partner Komeito, Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) and the Democratic Party for the People generally supported the content of the report. However, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan opposed it and called it insufficient. Bridging the gap in their views could prove challenging.

The CDPJ said the Diet should consider allowing the husbands and children of princesses by birth to be members of the Imperial family.

The LDP and other parties, however, opposed the idea of recognizing the children of princesses by birth, as this could lead to a child in the maternal line of the Imperial lineage becoming emperor.

The CDPJ was also cautious about the proposal for adoption, saying that the intentions of the former Imperial family branches should be confirmed first.

LDP puts forward idea

Even if the size of the Imperial family is increased and the number of those in charge of official duties rises, it will not change the fact that Prince Hisahito, 17, the son of Crown Prince Akishino, is the only heir to the throne in the next generation.

Some have said that simply bringing in more Imperial family members will not lead to a stable succession. Much attention has been given to discussions on how to increase the number of people eligible for the throne.

In the current talks, the LDP has put forward the idea that if the adoption plan is used and Imperial status is restored to members of former Imperial lines, boys born to former Imperial lines would be eligible to succeed to the throne.

The proposal follows the current system allowing male members in the male line born and raised in the Imperial family to be eligible to succeed to the Imperial throne.

Meanwhile, the CDPJ said that the issue of Imperial succession should be discussed head-on, but did not offer any specific plans.

Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who attended the talks, told reporters that discussions should include the possibility of succession to the Imperial throne by members other than male members in the male line. “There are many issues and challenges to be addressed,” he said.

If the talks between the ruling and opposition parties turn into a debate about qualifications for the Imperial throne, it will likely be an uphill battle to build consensus.

Diet’s schedule tight

Ever since the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi considered the possibility of a female Imperial family member or a male in the maternal bloodline becoming emperor, the debate over the Imperial household system has been driven by the agendas of various parties and the political climate of the time. Over nearly 20 years, the debate has taken many twists and turns.

It took about nine and a half years to finally hold the latest round of talks, including about seven years since the Diet’s supplementary resolution calling for prompt consideration of the issue and 2½ years since the release of the report by the government’s expert panel.

“It’s too late. It’s only natural that the Diet should be accused of negligence,” a mid-ranking member of the LDP said.

If the ruling and opposition parties can agree on concrete measures, the government plans to begin work in earnest on revising the Imperial Household Law and other legislation, but the Diet schedule is already tight.

In response to LDP factions’ violation of the Political Funds Control Law, a CDPJ executive has said the current political situation is “choppy.”

If the sense of antagonism between ruling and opposition parties grows toward the end of the session on June 23, they may postpone making a decision until autumn or later.