The government in early October, on the basis of hearings from experts, proposed that married female members of the Imperial Family create branch families within the Imperial Family and continue to retain the status of members of the Imperial Family. Under the 1947 Imperial Household Law, female members of the Imperial Family must become commoners upon marriage, giving up their position and official membership in the Imperial Family. The proposal is aimed at preventing a decrease in the number of Imperial Family members so that the Imperial Family can continue its functions in a stable manner.
Although the government avoided touching on Article 1 of the Imperial Household Law, which states that the Imperial throne will be succeeded by a male offspring descended along the male line, its proposal cannot be separated from the issue of how to ensure stable Imperial succession.
With regard to Imperial status, traditionalists are opposed to the creation of branch families headed by women members of the Imperial Family because they are concerned that such a system might lead to a person from the female line ascending the Imperial throne. Progressives, meanwhile, accept allowing females to become emperor and for their first-born children to ascend the Imperial throne. Constructive and informed public discussions on the future shape of the Imperial Family are needed.
The government’s proposal is realistic from the viewpoint of ensuring the stable execution of official functions performed by members of the Imperial Family. If the Imperial Family system remains as is, the number of Imperial Family members will dwindle as time goes by, because single female members of the Imperial Family are likely to marry and thus become commoners.
Currently the Crown Prince is the first in the line of succession to the Imperial throne; Prince Akishino, the younger brother of the Crown Prince, the second in the line; and his son Prince Hisahito, the third in the line. Should Prince Hisahito become emperor, a situation could develop in which his wife was the only person who could perform constitutional and other imperial functions as his proxy if the current Imperial Family system is preserved as is.
If married female members of the Imperial Family became heads of branch families within the Imperial Family, and were no longer identified as commoners, they could perform the functions carried out by Imperial Family members.
At present, there are eight unmarried female members in the Imperial Family. The government proposed that only female children and grandchildren of the emperor be allowed to establish branch families within the Imperial Family upon marriage. As for husbands and children of such married female Imperial Family members, the government offered two options: making them members of the Imperial Family or relegating them to commoner status. The Diet should revise the Imperial Household Law in a manner that will ensure that the Imperial Family can continue to carry out its official functions in a stable manner.