A conservative group within the ruling party submitted a proposal to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday to allow men from now-abolished collateral branches of the imperial family to rejoin it, as part of measures to ensure stable succession.
With heirs to the chrysanthemum throne limited to three at present under the law stipulating only males on the paternal side of the family can ascend to the throne, the Liberal Democratic Party group called for enabling unmarried male members of the former branches to join the imperial family through adoption or marriage, if they want to.
The group led by House of Councilors member Shigeharu Aoyama sought the creation of a special law to bring back members of the 11 collateral branches that left the imperial family in 1947. Abe has said giving imperial family status to them is one of the options to be considered to sustain the imperial succession.
But the idea has not been widely supported by the public, with a majority of respondents being in favor of allowing women to succeed to the throne in opinion polls. The imperial family and the former collateral branches share a common ancestor some 600 years ago.
The 1947 Imperial House Law limits successors to males on the paternal side of the family. After the May enthronement of Emperor Naruhito, 59, the three heirs are the emperor’s younger brother, Crown Prince Akishino, 53; the crown prince’s son, Prince Hisahito, 13; and Prince Hitachi, 83, the uncle of the emperor.
Emperor Naruhito has a daughter — Princess Aiko, 17 — and there are other women in the family, but the Imperial House Law requires women to abandon their imperial status after marrying commoners.
The group also put forward a negative stance on allowing women to retain their status as imperial family members after marriage, arguing it could lead to a first-ever “emperor of female lineage,” whose father’s side of the family is not of imperial ancestry.
The government has said it will discuss measures to ensure stable imperial succession after a series of events commemorating Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement.
Emperor Naruhito became the 126th emperor on May 1, the day after his father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, 85, stepped down — the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in about 200 years.
Last week, Emperor Naruhito performed a centuries-old Shinto thanksgiving ceremony known as the Daijosai, the last of the major succession rituals following his enthronement.