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The government is considering giving a new honorific title to female imperial family members who lose their imperial status after marriage to enable them to engage in public duties, government sources said Monday.

Concerns have grown that the number of imperial family members will shrink further down the road, leading to fewer members performing public duties.

Under the 1947 Imperial House Law, only males with patrilineal lineage can ascend the throne. Women who marry commoners must leave the imperial family.

The plan being floated to give the honorific kōjo to married female imperial family members is also an alternative to allowing them to retain imperial family status, in what could be a controversial change.

The creation of the new title is seen as easier to accept for conservatives who are against allowing women to take the throne or married female members staying in the imperial household.

The then Democratic Party of Japan-led government between 2009 and 2012 also explored the possibility of allowing female imperial family members to perform public activities after marriage.

"It's an idea that can gain support beyond party lines," said a person close to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The government is considering special legislation to create the new system, rather than revising the Imperial House Law, according to the government sources.

Princess Aiko, the daughter of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, as well as Crown Prince Akishino's daughters — Princess Mako and Princess Kako — are among imperial family members who would receive the new title after marriage. Sayako Kuroda, the emperor's younger sister who left the imperial household upon marriage to a commoner in 2005, would also be entitled, according to the sources.

The government faces a pressing need to decide how to ensure stable imperial succession, given that there are currently only three heirs, Crown Prince Akishino, 54, his 14-year-old son Prince Hisahito and the emperor's 84-year-old uncle Prince Hitachi.

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