Due to differing views even within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the government has decided to postpone holding full-fledged talks on how to achieve a stable imperial succession until next spring.
Sources close to the matter recently said that as Crown Prince Akishino is scheduled to announce himself to be first in line to the throne during a ceremony due to be held on April 19, the government plans to start the debate after the event in order to avoid worsening the situation among LDP lawmakers.
In recent years the number of imperial family members has been shrinking.
The 1947 Imperial House Law states that only males in the paternal line can ascend the chrysanthemum throne, and the Diet has called for a swift discussion on the situation.
Some opposition parties have proposed allowing succession by women or by members in the maternal line, while a group within the LDP that is adamant about sticking to the patrilineal succession has urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe not to break the centuries-old tradition.
But Akira Amari, a senior LDP lawmaker, said during a TV program aired Nov. 24 that succession by female members of the imperial family “should be tolerated as a last option” after placing members of the male line before them in the order of succession.
While Amari later explained he was not actively advocating emperors of the matrilineage, Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary-general of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, welcomed the comment, saying the fact that different views within the ruling party surfaced is valuable in itself.
Amari’s remarks were followed by LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai’s that were also widely seen as supporting a new style of succession as he has previously mentioned tolerating female emperors.
“As we bear in mind the equality of men and women and the democratic society, the conclusion is obvious,” Nikai said during a news conference on Nov. 26.
The government initially planned to set up a panel to debate the future of the imperial succession after Emperor Naruhito completed the Daijosai ritual last month, a major Shinto-style thanksgiving ceremony that was carried out following his enthronement on May 1.
After the emperor ascended the throne, the imperial family now has only three male heirs — the emperor’s younger brother, Crown Prince Akishino, 54, his son, Prince Hisahito, 13, and Prince Hitachi, 84, the emperor’s uncle.