Photo/Illutration Emperor Naruhito, Empress Masako, Crown Prince Fumihito, Crown Princess Kiko and other imperial family members attend a ceremony at the Imperial Palace in March 2021. (Pool)

A report on the direction of future discussions, compiled last month by a government panel of experts on imperial succession, revealed the difficulty of maintaining a national system by relying on just one family to function.

The report also exposed the irresponsibility of political leaders who have refused to tackle the issue by willfully withholding discussions for nearly a decade.

The panel refrained from expressing its view on allowing women or men of the female line to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne.

But it acknowledged the urgency of securing a sufficient number of imperial family members and proposed three measures: 

(1) Allow female imperial family members to keep their imperial status even after marrying commoners.

(2) Allow men of the male line from the former branches of the imperial family to regain imperial status through adoption by the imperial family.

(3) If these measures prove insufficient, enable men of the male line from the former branches of the imperial family to become imperial family members by law.

The panel will study the pros and cons of each measure and compile a report.

The panel says it is necessary to retain the current order of succession--Crown Prince Fumihito followed by his son, Prince Hisahito--and ensure that the number of imperial family members be kept at a certain level.

The stance is in line with what The Asahi Shimbun has been calling for in its editorials.

However, proposal No. 3 is tantamount to reviving the imperial family branches that were stripped of their imperial status as part of postwar reforms.

The members of the branches had split from the imperial family proper 600 years ago and have lived as commoners since the end of World War II.

To suddenly bring them back into the imperial family fold not only clashes with the public consciousness but also runs counter to the traditional nature of the imperial family system.

Some constitutional scholars told the panel’s hearing that the move would violate the Constitution, which bans discrimination by family origin.

The same problem is inherent in proposal No. 2.

No individual--a male to be adopted, his parents and imperial family members who adopt him--should ever be forced into an adoption arrangement.

The question also remains as to how such an adoption can be reconciled with the current system that does not grant freedom of choice in the ascension to, or abdication from, the throne.

These proposals stem from the belief that imperial succession must forever remain limited to men of the male line of the imperial family.

So long as this remains the case, no one in the imperial family, including the potential partner of young Prince Hisahito, will ever be free of the shackles of a male heir.

Tradition should be respected. But what tradition is so important if it is to be upheld at the price of violating human rights and possibly even the Constitution?

How much support can such a tradition win from the Japanese people today and in the future? Everyone needs to think really hard.

Even proposal No. 1, which may be the easiest to accept, cannot be enforced against the will of the women concerned.

Women born into the imperial family, raised on the premise that they will become commoners upon marriage, have planned their lives accordingly.

In consideration of the ages of imperial family members, the Democratic Party of Japan government in autumn 2012 proposed a system that would allow female members to establish their own imperial family branch upon marriage, something close to proposal No. 1.

However, the succeeding Liberal Democratic Party administrations of Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga have shied away from discussions, further aggravating the crisis.

The Constitution defines the emperor as the symbol of the unity of the people. The system cannot survive without the support and understanding of the sovereign people. The government and the Diet must acknowledge this anew to deal with the crisis.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 10