Photo/Illutration A government expert panel discusses ways to ensure stable imperial succession at the prime minister’s office on July 9, 2021. (Koichi Ueda)

Any discussion of expanding the number of successors to the Chrysanthemum Throne, including proposals to open the way for a woman to become emperor, is off the table for now.

A government panel of experts working to compile a report on ways to ensure stable imperial succession decided to opt out of holding talks on the matter at a July 26 meeting held to set the direction of its discussions in the coming months.

The panel, expected to report its proposals to the Diet in autumn after the Lower House election, refrained from delving into whether to expand the eligibility of potential heirs to the throne to avoid having to deal with multiple issues that doing so might also require it to address.

“If the panel goes into it, it will inevitably have to discuss the issues of allowing women and males of the female line to become the emperor,” a senior government official said. “Such issues will be too heavy to tackle at this stage.”

Instead, the panel’s debate will center on two issues: allowing female imperial family members to keep their royal status even after marrying commoners and allowing men from the former branches of the imperial family to regain imperial status through adoption by the imperial family.

The panel, headed by Atsushi Seike, a former president of Keio University, has held five hearings since April to receive input from 21 experts on imperial succession.

The Imperial House Law, set in 1947, states that only males in the family’s male line can become heirs to the throne.

That leaves only three members who are eligible to succeed Emperor Naruhito: the emperor’s younger brother, Crown Prince Fumihito, 55; Fumihito's son, Prince Hisahito, 14; and Prince Hitachi, who is 85 and the uncle of Naruhito and Fumihito.

The existing line of succession to the throne puts the crown prince first, Hisahito second and Prince Hitachi third.

Panel members exchanged views on how to secure a sufficient number of imperial family members to secure heirs to the throne at a time when Hisahito is the only male member left in the line of succession while maintaining the premise of preserving the current succession order.

The panel is expected to deepen their discussions on allowing female members to keep their imperial status and men from the former imperial branches to restore royal status through adoption by the imperial family.

But as a potential third option to expand the imperial family, the panel will also weigh allowing men from the former imperial branches to become members of the imperial family through law, in addition to adoption.

The panel has been meeting to fulfill the government's obligation under a 2017 special measures law allowing then Emperor Akihito’s abdication to discuss how to overcome challenges to stable imperial succession and to consider the establishment of houses headed by female imperial family members.

Conservative members of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party strongly advocate sustaining the existing Imperial House Law, dictating that only males in the family’s male line can succeed to the throne.

They oppose proposals to allow female imperial family members and males of the family’s female line to ascend to the throne and are against establishing houses headed by female members of the family by allowing them to retain royal status even after they marry commoners.

A senior official with the prime minister’s office said the panel will need time to fully debate the issue “in a quiet environment” and “avoid verbal sparring.”