Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday that giving Imperial family status to those in collateral branches of the family should be considered to sustain male-dominated succession in the face of the dwindling size of the world’s longest hereditary monarchy.
Imperial succession is an “extremely important issue related to the foundation of this nation and I believe it’s necessary to deal with it carefully and thoroughly,” Abe told the Lower House Budget Committee.
A total of 11 collateral branches departed from the Imperial family in 1947.
The issue is in the spotlight because there are few male heirs eligible for succession under the Imperial House Law. The issue was recently dragged back into the spotlight when Emperor Akihito, 83, hinted in a rare video message last August that he would like to abdicate due to his declining physical strength.
The four heirs eligible to ascend the throne are Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, his younger brother Prince Akishino, 51, Prince Akishino’s son Prince Hisahito, 10, and the Emperor’s 81-year-old brother Prince Hitachi.
Crown Prince Naruhito, first in line to the Chrysanthemum throne, does not have a son.
Abe said he has not changed his long-held view that enabling the former Imperial family branches to return to the family or male members of such families to be adopted by the Imperial family should be considered.
The ongoing discussion over the current Emperor’s possible abdication should be separated from the issue of stabilizing Imperial succession, Abe said.
Earlier this week, a government advisory panel studying the possible abdication of the Emperor released an interim report emphasizing the advantages of allowing the move under legislation applying only to him but not to future emperors.
To enable him to step down and turn over the throne to the Crown Prince, a legal amendment or special legislation is required to the Imperial House Law.
While Abe’s government envisions one-off legislation to deal with the matter, some opposition parties insist on a wider revision of the law, which would likely entail complicated debate including that pertaining to female lineage.
In a related move on Thursday, Imperial Household Agency Grand Steward Shinichiro Yamamoto said at a regular news conference that even if the Emperor abdicates, it would be “difficult” for the Crown Prince to succeed on Jan. 1, 2019, as has been reported by some media, citing key events held by the Imperial family on New Year’s Day.