The government this month starts hearing opinions from knowledgeable people on the idea of allowing female members of the Imperial Family to remain in the family even if they marry commoners and to become the heads of branches within the family. Behind the move is a fear that as long as the current Imperial Household Law remains as it is, the number of Imperial Family members will dwindle as time goes on. Under the law, female Imperial Family members lose the status of being members of the family if they marry commoners.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura is beating around the bush in explaining the idea of keeping female Imperial Family members within the family even after their marriage with commoners. He only says that it is urgent to “maintain the activities of the Imperial Family in a stable manner” and to “lighten the burden of the Emperor and Empress’ official duties.”

But if male members of the Imperial Family become very few, it will become difficult to keep the Imperial line. The Imperial Household Law stipulates that an emperor must be a son of the male Imperial line. Given the current situation of the Imperial Family, making a woman Imperial Family member serve as an emperor may become unavoidable. The government must make efforts so that public discussions on the matter will be carried out in a quiet and informed manner.

The Imperial Family now consists of the Emperor, the Empress and 20 other members. Eight are unmarried females. The youngest is Prince Hisahito, the son of Prince Akishino, the younger brother of the Crown Prince. Prince Hisahito, who is the third in the line of succession to the Imperial throne, is the only male Imperial Family member in his generation.

In the planned hearings, the main points will be whether the female heads of branches in the Imperial Family should be limited to daughters or granddaughters of the emperor and whether male commoners who marry female Imperial Family members and their children should be counted as members of the Imperial Family. The topic of succession to the Imperial throne will be avoided. A suspicion will persist that the government is shying away from discussing a possible situation in which there will be no males to succeed to the throne.

If this is not discussed, people’s concerns about the Imperial Family will not be addressed, thus making it a shaky institution.

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