【Editorial】Stable Succession to the Throne:Don’t Shake Up Male Succession

Original May 13, 2024】

The ruling and opposition parties will begin discussions on imperial succession this week led by the Speakers of both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. While it may take time to reach a consensus of the legislature, talks proceeding in accordance with the principle of male succession is most important. Stable succession will only be possible if the imperial line is preserved.

Media Reports Leading Public to Accept Female Succession

At the end of 2021, a government panel submitted a report in which they agreed that “succession to the throne must not be abated” on the premise that Emperor Naruhito, Crown Prince Akishino, and Prince Hisahito—who is eligible to succeed the throne—are still alive. The panel confirmed that the principle of imperial succession, as stipulated in the Imperial Household Law, is that of “male descendants of the imperial line.”

The report specifically stated that succession to the throne and the number of Imperial Family members should be considered separately, and regarding the latter, it suggested that (1) female members of the Imperial Family remain in the Imperial Family even after marriage, and (2) male members of the former imperial families be returned to the Imperial Family as adopted sons.

Although this issue may not pertain to the Japanese Communist Party as it seeks to end the imperial line, the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito, Japan Innovation Party, and Democratic Party for the People have expressed their approval concerning these issues. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is keeping to its discussion points. The important thing to remember regarding (1) is that spouses and children of female members of the Imperial Family do not have Imperial status. If they do, it will lead to the birth of a matrilineal emperor, which would mean a break in the Imperial line.

Opinions are likely divided on establishing a female imperial branch. This is because the Emperor Abdication Law of 2017—which made it possible for Emperor Akihito to abdicate—requires an additional resolution that calls on the government to consider a stable succession plan to the throne immediately after an abdication, including the possible creation of a female imperial branch, and report back to the Diet.

In addition to upholding the principle of imperial succession, the panel made another crucial point. It stated, “The current situation is not ripe to discuss imperial succession beyond Prince Hisahito, and in fact, such discussions could destabilize the succession to the throne.”

What is worrisome is the mainstream media reporting the issue, on the back of public opinion polls that approve matrilineal succession, in a way that leads to altering the order of succession. In one of its editorials (dated May 7), the Asahi Shimbun brought up an opinion poll conducted five years ago, in which 74% of respondents said that “a matrilineal emperor is acceptable” while stating that “it is not realistic to change” the already fixed order of succession, “but highly doubtful whether male-only succession in the future is the ‘consensus of the people.’” This piece implicitly implies matrilineal emperors be allowed.

Expect More Awareness

At the end of April, Kyodo News published the results of a public opinion poll showing 84% in favor of a matrilineal emperor (including those who answered “somewhat in favor of”) and 77% in support of the creation of a female imperial branch. The role of the imperial family branches essentially lies in securing a successor to the throne. Since descendants of a female imperial branch would be eligible to succeed to the throne, leading to matrilineal emperors, we also clearly oppose establishing such a female branch.

Public opinion matters in democracy. But what do matrilineal emperors and female imperial branches mean? The postwar education system has neglected the imperial family, and it is hard to believe that the public is fully aware of these issues. Many people cannot distinguish the difference between a female emperor and a matrilineal emperor. Hopefully the Diet debate on the succession to the Imperial Throne will deepen public awareness to the significance of preserving the imperial line.

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