Government panel to debate letting woman ascend throne

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The government said Monday it will set up an advisory panel next month to discuss revising the Imperial Household Law with an eye to allowing a female ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

The Constitution says the Imperial Throne “shall be dynastic,” while Article 1 of the Imperial House Law stipulates that only a male of the direct male line of the Imperial family can be the reigning monarch.

But for nearly 40 years, only female babies have been born to the Imperial family — a situation that has deepened concern over the future of the emperor system.

The situation has also aroused public sympathy for Crown Princess Masako, a former career diplomat who is rumored to be suffering from pressure to bear a male heir. She and her husband, Crown Prince Naruhito, so far have only a daughter, Princess Aiko, 3, who under current law cannot ascend to the throne.

“The stable succession of the Imperial throne is a matter related to the fundamentals of the state,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said in announcing the establishment of the advisory panel.

The 10-member panel includes Japan International Cooperation Agency head Sadako Ogata, Toyota Motor Corp. Chairman Hiroshi Okuda, University of Tokyo President Takeshi Sasaki and Koji Sato, a professor emeritus at Kyoto University who is also an expert on the Constitution.

The government will ask the panel to compile a report on matters related to Imperial succession by next fall.

But Hosoda refused to discuss matters related to the possibility of a reigning empress, saying the agenda for the report would be left entirely in the hands of the panel.

“Everybody knows about the current environment” surrounding the Imperial family, Hosoda said. “Our job is (only) to prepare a forum (for discussion).”

Under the postwar Constitution, the Emperor is not allowed to exercise any political power but is obliged to carry out state ceremonies as the symbol of the unity of the state and the people of Japan.

Public opinion polls indicate most people would not object to having a female on the throne. A 2002 poll by the Japan Association for Public Opinion Research found 76 percent of respondents support a reigning female monarch, up 5 percentage points from the previous poll in 2001.

“I think people would welcome a female emperor,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters this month.

Changing the Imperial family system, however, is a sensitive topic for rightwing scholars and political groups. They argue that the male-only tradition must be maintained, said Koichi Yokota, a professor at Ryutsu Keizai University and an expert on the Constitution.

“But a female monarch is inevitable if the Imperial system is to be maintained,” he said.

The origin of Article 1 of the Imperial House Law dates back to Article 2 of the Meiji Constitution, which was promulgated in 1889 and abolished after World War II.

Prior to that, there was no rule or law that prohibited a woman from ascending to the throne, and records show eight women reigned as monarchs. However, none of their children ever ascended to the throne.

The last female on the throne was Empress Gosakuramachi, who reigned from 1762 and 1770. Her reign ended when the then crown prince came of age.