About 80% of respondents in a recent Kyodo News poll said they would accept both a reigning empress and an emperor descending from a female member of the imperial family as the number of viable heirs shrinks.
The results of the survey conducted by mail in March and April were broadly in line with the outcome of the previous Kyodo poll on the issue conducted last year, indicating an overwhelming majority of people support changes to the rule limiting imperial succession to men from the paternal line.
The latest survey conducted ahead of Constitution Memorial Day on Monday also showed 67% were opposed to the idea of reinstating male patrilineal descendants of the now-abolished collateral branches of the imperial family who abandoned their status in 1947.
How to ensure a stable succession to the chrysanthemum throne has become an urgent task since Emperor Akihito, 87, relinquished the throne in 2019 — the first emperor to do so in around 200 years — based on a one-off law.
Emperor Naruhito, 61, has only three heirs — his brother Crown Prince Akishino, 55, his nephew Prince Hisahito, 14, and his uncle Prince Hitachi, 85. The emperor and Empress Masako have one daughter, 19-year-old Princess Aiko.
The number of imperial family members has been decreasing as women are required to abandon their royal status upon marrying commoners under the 1947 Imperial House Law.
In March, the government launched formal discussions on how to ensure a stable imperial succession by establishing an advisory panel to solicit views from experts.
Despite widespread public support for a reigning empress and an emperor descending from the maternal line, opposition to the idea remains strong among conservative academics and lawmakers including members of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party.
The world’s oldest monarchy has an unbroken history of patrilineal succession.
But while it has had eight reigning empresses from a male line of descent, with the last occupying the throne in the 18th century, a rule prohibiting women from occupying the throne was introduced in the late 19th century and retained under the 1947 legislation.
The panel has been discussing topics including the creation of a system to enable women to remain in the royal family even after their marriage to commoners and reinstating members of the 11 former collateral branches that share family a common ancestor with the imperial dating back around 600 years.
The latest Kyodo survey targeted 3,000 people aged 18 and older across the country and drew 1,907 responses by April 19, of which 1,839 were valid. The response rate was 61.3%.
It showed 52% of the respondents supported and 35% somewhat backed a reigning empress, meaning a total of 87% were in favor of the idea, up slightly from the 85% mark in last year’s survey.
Asked about an emperor descending from the maternal line, 43% of the respondents were in favor and 37% were somewhat supportive. The total of 80% was almost unchanged from 79% last year.
By age and gender, more than 90% of female respondents in their 30s or younger said they would accept both a reigning empress and an emperor from the maternal line, the poll showed.
Among nine academics and journalists interviewed during two meetings of the advisory panel held in April, many were in support of a reigning empress, but most of them were cautious about an emperor from the maternal line.
The advisory panel will hear from a total of about 20 experts and is aiming to reach a conclusion by this fall, at which point it will present its findings to the Diet.
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.