The Japanese government's expert committee to discuss policies for a stable imperial succession has had its first meeting. And we call for this discussion to be open and proceed along lines that the public will find convincing.
A National Diet supplementary resolution attached to the 2017 special measures law allowing then Emperor Akihito to abdicate called on the government to engage in substantive discussion on imperial succession soon after the abdication.
There are now only two people left in line to the Imperial Throne younger than the current Emperor Naruhito, his younger brother Crown Prince Fumihito, 55, and the latter's son Prince Hisahito, age 14. However, after former Emperor Akihito's abdication on April 30, 2019, the previous administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kept pushing back debate on the succession. The government bears a heavy responsibility for avoiding this pressing issue.
Behind this procrastination was the vehement opposition to allowing female emperors or emperors from the maternal line -- whose father is not related to an emperor -- that is so deeply rooted among conservatives, who formed the Abe administration's main support base.
The expert committee that has been established under the administration of Abe's successor Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has six members, two of whom were also on the committee set up to debate now Emperor Emeritus Akihito's abdication. There are some figures raising questions over the closeness between the administration and the committee, and it is indeed very important that the members be able to talk over the succession issue without worrying about the Suga administration's opinions.
According to multiple public opinion polls, support for female emperors or female-line emperors currently hovers around 70%. The expert committee should deepen its discussions on such options with present public attitudes in mind.
One proposal circulating in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is to restore the royal status in men of princely lineages excised from the Imperial Household after World War II. However, it would likely be impossible to gain public understanding for bringing these men back into the line of succession after more than 70 years as regular citizens unschooled in the ways and duties of the Imperial Household.
The Imperial Family's dwindling membership is a serious problem. If it shrinks further, the weight of the family's duties will become yet greater for those still there, making the continuation of their activities difficult.
However, the LDP's conservative wing is fighting any moves to allow branch families headed by female Imperial Family members so they can retain their imperial status after marriage, as this could lead to maternal-line emperors. There is also a proposal to give married female family members the title "imperial princess" and entrust them with performing public duties.
In December last year, House of Representatives Speaker Tadamori Oshima stated, "It would be good if the Suga administration could produce an answer to this (the imperial succession) question that could win the public's understanding and sympathy." To make that happen, discussions must be above politics.
Prime Minister Suga should be aware of the heavy responsibility now on his shoulders, and reach a conclusion through broad public debate that can win the support of the Japanese people.