TV & Radio
Japan panel to list reigning empress as option-report
Tue Jul 26, 2005 4:03 AM BST
TOKYO (Reuters) - A panel of experts discussing Japan's imperial succession will propose allowing a female to ascend the throne as an option to preserve one of the world's oldest monarchies, media reports said on Tuesday.
The question of who will succeed to the Chrysanthemum throne has sparked controversy because of a law that limits accession to males and the fact that no son has been born into the imperial family for four decades.
Hopes for a male heir to Crown Prince Naruhito, 45, dimmed three years ago when his wife, Crown Princess Masako, 41, gave birth to their first and only child, Princess Aiko.
Many lawmakers in both ruling and opposition parties as well as the vast majority of voters favour revising the Imperial Household Law to allow a woman to reign in a role that is devoid of political power but steeped in tradition and symbolism.
Despite public support for a reigning empress, the debate by the 10-member special panel is a delicate one, since ultra-conservatives and right-wingers want to preserve a male lineage they believe stretches back some 2,600 years.
A change in the law would open the way for Aiko to become Japan's first modern reigning empress.
The head of the advisory panel, former University of Tokyo President Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, has said the panel will list "talking points" in an interim report and then seek public comment before making a final report, probably in September.
The Imperial Household Law, enacted in 1947, stipulates that only male heirs who have emperors on their father's side can succeed to the throne.
Some panel members have suggested reviving the 11 princely houses that were abolished after World War Two and finding a successor among their ranks, an option that was expected to be included in Tuesday's interim report, media reports said.
Another option would be to allow the imperial family to adopt male heirs, experts have said.
The succession crisis has been kept in the spotlight by the plight of Masako, a once-lively former career diplomat who has been unable to carry out her formal duties for over a year due to a mental disorder caused by the stress of adapting to royal life, including, many royal watchers say, pressure to produce an heir.
Masako's woes prompted Naruhito, who is first in line to the throne, to go public last year with surprisingly blunt remarks, telling a news conference that she had "completely exhausted herself" trying to adapt to imperial life.
Japan has had eight reigning princesses, the last in the 18th century. But traditionalists stress that none of those female rulers passed on the throne to her own child.
Pragmatists have argued that allowing a woman to reign is the best way to maintain the imperial institution.
But the question remains whether a first-born child should inherit regardless of gender or whether a younger brother would take precedence over older female siblings.