The Diet has begun moves to coordinate opinions among ruling and opposition parties over the abdication of Emperor Akihito as speakers and vice speakers of both houses of the Diet heard from representatives of eight parties and two parliamentary factions individually on the matter.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito supported the policy promoted by the prime minister's office, which is to establish a special law only applicable to Emperor Akihito, while many opposition parties, including the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), Japanese Communist Party, Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party pushed for revising the Imperial House Law to make the abdication system permanent.
The Diet plans to compile a view as the legislative branch on the matter by the end of March. We expect legislators to cooperate in a sincere manner to reach ground for compromise beyond the interests of each party.
The ruling coalition argues that it will be difficult to create a permanent law since universal requirements for emperors' retirements cannot be established. The DP, on the other hand, claims that emperors should be allowed to step down on condition that the Imperial Household Council approve abdication after confirming the emperors' will. The main opposition party insists on creating a retirement system for emperors, arguing that revisions to the Imperial House Law, which sets specific conditions over Imperial succession, are necessary to that end.
Some members of the ruling parties are willing to make a compromise out of consideration for the DP and make the smallest change necessary to the law by adding a clause that would serve as the ground for the Emperor's abdication. The speakers and vice speakers reportedly implied possibilities of adopting this idea as the basis for consensus building between the ruling coalition and opposition.
Nevertheless, opposition lawmakers remain cautious about the ruling parties' plot as specific provisions over an emperor's abdication would still be up to the special legislation. If the two sides force themselves to dissolve their differences, it will only further divide the gap between them.
To bridge the gap between the ruling coalition and opposition parties, it is necessary to consider the matter from a future-oriented perspective. It will be essential for the two sides to show that they are both willing to work, within a specific time frame, on how to maintain the Imperial throne as well as stabilize Imperial succession.
In the modern age, the Chrysanthemum Throne has only been passed down when the emperor at the time died. If ways for abdications are cleared, transition of emperors is expected to speed up, which will likely pose more serious problems for the issue of the declining number of Imperial Family members.
There are currently only four Imperial Family members who are in line for succession to the throne, including Crown Prince Naruhito. Among Emperor Akihito's grandchildren and those in that generation, the only heir to the throne is 10-year-old Prince Hisahito. It is feared that the current patriarchal succession system, where only male members of the Imperial Family in the male line can succeed to the Imperial throne, will become deadlocked in the future.
Of 18 Imperial Family members today, there are seven female members who are not married, but they will leave the Imperial Family once they get married. Considering not only the stabilization of succession but also the future of the Imperial Family as a whole, appropriate measures need to be addressed as soon as possible.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who puts weight on the patriarchal succession system, has indicated that he is willing to study ways to stabilize Imperial succession.
There have been voices calling for the establishment of Imperial Family branches headed by female members, which will allow them to remain in the Imperial Family even after they are married. In addition to the Democratic Party, which proposed this idea under then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda when its predecessor Democratic Party of Japan was in power, Komeito also suggested during the meeting with the speakers and vice speakers that the party was willing to reconsider the Imperial Household system, including possibilities of creating branch households headed by female members. Debate over whether to allow female members of the Imperial Family to accede to the throne will likely be inevitable in the future.
Minutes of earlier meetings between the ruling coalition and opposition parties moderated by the speakers and vice speakers have been made public. They will serve as the foundation to build consensus among the people on the matter. Public interest in the issue extends over the shape of the Imperial Household in the future. The key to reaching ground for compromise is for the two sides to share the understanding of Japan's future Imperial Family system.