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Editorial: Gov't can't delay discussion on Japan's imperial succession issue any longer

The "rikkoshi no rei" ceremonies to proclaim Crown Prince Akishino as the figure first in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne will be held on Nov. 8 this year, after having been postponed from the originally scheduled date in April due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

    The government says that these will be the final ceremonies in connection with the imperial succession that took place in 2019, and once they are over, full-scale discussion on achieving a stable line of imperial succession will move into full swing.

    In line with a special law enacted in 2017 to allow the abdication of former Emperor Akihito, an additional resolution in the Diet called on the government to swiftly discuss stable imperial succession following the Emperor's abdication and other issues. The administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, put off debate and no conclusion was reached.

    There are in fact only two people younger than Emperor Naruhito who currently stand in line to the throne: 54-year-old Crown Prince Akishino (Fumihito), and his son Prince Hisahito, who is 14.

    The biggest points of discussion when it comes to imperial succession are whether to allow an empress regnant or a matrilineal emperor whose father has no bloodline connection with past emperors to ascend the throne.

    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga previously expressed caution toward allowing such imperial rulers when serving in his previous position as chief Cabinet secretary, stating, "We will consider the issue with the weight of the fact that patrilineal succession has been maintained from long ago without exception." This statement is believed to be based on the intentions of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Suga has not disclosed his thoughts on the issue since becoming prime minister himself.

    While there remains strong opposition within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to allowing empresses regnant or matrilineal emperors, some have made remarks suggesting they are accepting of the idea. In August, Minister for Administrative Reform and Regulatory Reform Taro Kono stated, "In the current Imperial Household, I have to say there is considerable risk in maintaining a patrilineal line," and expressed the position that discussion of the issue should proceed swiftly.

    LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai similarly commented last year, "If we consider (the issue) with equality between the sexes and a democratic society in mind, then I think the answer will emerge by itself."

    In various opinion polls, support for empresses regnant and matrilineal emperors has reached around 70%. And in 2005, under the administration of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a panel of experts compiled a report allowing such imperial rulers.

    During the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic, opportunities for Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako to interact with members of the public have decreased significantly. Many people likely realized again that their presence for the people of Japan is special.

    Discussion on imperial succession cannot be delayed any longer. The government has the responsibility to draw a conclusion through open debate as soon as possible.

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