A private advisory panel to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi kicked off discussions Tuesday on the Imperial House Law, with the central theme to be whether and how a female could ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Allowing for a reigning empress who marries outside the Imperial family and whose children ascend to the throne would terminate a hereditary tradition in which only those from the paternal line have reigned. The tradition is believed to have continued for more than 1,000 years.

The issue has become a keen topic of interest because no males have been born to the Imperial family for almost 40 years and Crown Prince Naruhito’s only child is Princess Aiko, 3.

“Given the current members of the Imperial family, we believe a study into maintaining a stable succession for the future is inevitable,” said Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Masaaki Yamazaki, reading out a message from the prime minister at the start of the panel’s first session.

The panel, tasked with compiling recommendations for a report this autumn, is expected to discuss revisions to the 1947 Imperial House Law. Among other things, the law stipulates that only a male in the paternal line of the Imperial family can be the reigning monarch.

“Nearly 60 years after the enactment of the current Imperial House Law, it is considered that the consciousness of the public has changed considerably,” the message read by Yamazaki said.

Media polls have indicated that a vast majority of people would not object to a reigning empress. A January poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun found that 79 percent of 1,843 respondents supported legal revisions allowing a female to ascend the throne.

During Tuesday’s session, the panel unanimously agreed that the most important element of its deliberations would be “public opinion,” according to former University of Tokyo President Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, who was chosen by the panelists to head the group the same day.

“In the end, there would be nothing that we can use as a prerequisite (in drawing a conclusion) but the feelings of average people,” Yoshikawa told a news conference.

He added that he had not considered soliciting the opinions of Imperial Family members, including Emperor Akihito, during panel sessions, and that such action would probably not be taken.

The panel is scheduled to convene around once a month until fall.

In addition to Yoshikawa, the 10-member panel includes Sadako Ogata, head of the Japan International Cooperation Agency; Toyota Motor Corp. Chairman Hiroshi Okuda; University of Tokyo President Takeshi Sasaki; and Koji Sato, a professor emeritus at Kyoto University and a constitutional expert.

Former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Teijiro Furukawa and Haruo Sasayama, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, are also among the panelists.

Some observers predict the advisory group will back a legal revision.

Hiroshi Takahashi, a professor at Shizuoka University of Welfare and an expert on topics related to the Imperial family, noted that none of the members are known to have right-leaning opinions. Rightwing elements in Japan are believed opposed to a female succession.

Takahashi said the government supports changing the law and had that in mind when choosing the panelists. Government sources have said the government plans to submit a bill to revise the Imperial House Law to the ordinary Diet session that starts in January 2006.

“Looking at the panel members, you can say it is certain that they will conclude (that a reigning empress is acceptable) because public opinion is as such,” he said.

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