Female members of the Imperial family must retain their status after marriage to maintain the Emperor system, experts told a government panel Wednesday.

Journalist Soichiro Tahara and Akira Imatani, a Teikyo University professor on medieval Japanese history, were invited to give their views at the panel’s first hearing. Panel members include Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tsuyoshi Saito and Itsuo Sonobe, a former Supreme Court justice who was appointed as special adviser to the Cabinet on the issue.

Both Tahara and Imatani recommended that females be allowed to stay within the Imperial family after marriage, though with limits on their lineage.

“Times have changed and Japan has become a society that promotes gender equality. I think refusing to allow females to maintain their status is an anachronism,” Tahara told the panel. The session was open to reporters, though no cameras were allowed.

But creating female branches of the royal family raises various issues, such as how far the line would extend and what would be the status of commoner husbands.

Tahara and Imatani suggested a quasi Imperial status for such husbands, permitting them to attend official events and keep their jobs, though perhaps with some restrictions.

Tahara cited Tadateru Konoe, president of the Japanese Red Cross Society, who is married to the daughter of Prince Mikasa, the youngest brother of the late Emperor Showa. Such a job should be permitted, though one in the financial industry, for example, might not be.

“There will be various restrictions (for the husbands) but that cannot be helped. . . . Some may have to” quit or change jobs, Tahara said.

The idea of creating matrilineal branches has surfaced amid concern that the Imperial family is rapidly shrinking due to an Imperial House Law that stipulates that women who marry commoners must abandon their status.

There are currently 23 Imperial family members, including the Emperor, but only seven are male. Four are over 60 years old. Meanwhile, there are eight single women in the Imperial family, six of whom are over the age of 20.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Tahara noted some are concerned that creating female lines will lead to heirs to the crown from the maternal side. By law, only the sons of emperors can ascend the Chrysanthemum throne.

Tahara said that in his view empresses should be allowed but the discussion of a maternal line is a different story.

Throughout history, there have been eight empresses.

“Japan has a history of female emperors but traditionally, the emperor system has never had heirs from a maternal lineage,” Tahara said. “The discussion of creating female family branches and allowing heirs from maternal lineage to succeed the throne is completely different.”

The government panel will hold one or two hearings a month and hear from various experts on the issue.

While no deadline has been set, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Wednesday that the government did not intend to “continue the meetings forever.”

Tahara also said that members of the Imperial household should not be allowed to marry foreigners.

He recalled being asked by European journalists a few decades ago why Emperor Akihito married a commoner rather than someone from his class, and why he didn’t look abroad if no Japanese women were suitable.

“Not once has there been foreign blood in the Imperial family — that is the tradition. I don’t think I was able to explain it properly, but I told (the journalists) that Japanese people would not like it, and that I couldn’t agree, either,” Tahara said.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.