Photo/Illutration Emperor Naruhito leaves the venue for his enthronement ceremony in the Imperial Palace on Oct. 22, 2019, with Crown Prince Fumihito being the only male member of the imperial family also in attendance. Six male members attended the 1990 enthronement ceremony for Naruhito's father, Akihito, now the emperor emeritus. (Pool)

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said preserving the male line to the Chrysanthemum Throne should be given top priority in the government’s efforts to secure stable succession as the imperial family line diminishes.

“The fact that male-line succession has continued without a break carries great significance,” Suga said in a Nippon Broadcasting System Inc. radio program aired Jan. 3. “I think the male line of succession should come first (in addressing the issue of ensuring stable imperial succession).”

The line of succession is limited to males under the Imperial House Law. Many of those who make up the political support base for Shinzo Abe, Suga’s predecessor as prime minister, have insisted on retaining the male line to the throne.

During the show, recorded Dec. 18, Suga was also asked his view on allowing male descendants of former members of the family to return to the imperial family household.

“I want to refrain from commenting in my position (as prime minister) at this point,” he said.

The imperial family currently has 18 members. But there are only seven members under the age of 40 and six of them are female.

That leaves Prince Hisahito, the son of Crown Prince Fumihito and Crown Princess Kiko and second in line to the throne, as the only male member in that age group.

The Imperial House Law stipulates that female members of the imperial family must relinquish their royal status upon marrying a commoner, meaning they cannot continue carrying out official duties on behalf of the imperial family after marriage.

The government has reportedly been discussing options for establishing houses headed by female members of the imperial family, where they would retain their royal status after marriage, and allowing male descendants of former members of the family to enter the imperial household through adoption.