As Princess Mako, the eldest daughter of Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, is expected to be formally engaged to a former classmate at her university, a debate on the idea of enabling female members of the Imperial family to establish their own Imperial branches while retaining their Imperial status after marriage will likely attract attention again.
Ruling and opposition parties are discussing a bill to establish a special measures law to realise the abdication of the Emperor.
Some Diet members want to add the creation of female Imperial branches to the discussion, aiming to put it in a Diet resolution accompanying the enactment of the special measures law. A great question is to what extent they will be able to do so.
Article 12 of the Imperial House Law states, "In case a female of the Imperial family marries a person other than the Emperor or the members of the Imperial family, she shall lose the status of the Imperial family member."
Currently, among the 14 female Imperial family members, there are seven in their 30s or younger, including Princess Aiko, 15, the daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako. There is a possibility the seven could leave the Imperial family after marriage.
Female Imperial family members are covering the activities of the males, whose numbers are declining.
Princess Mako acts as the patron of the Japan Kogei Association and the honorary patron of the Japan Tennis Association. She is also earnestly working on promoting international friendships by using her experience of studying abroad.
Shinji Yamashita, 60, a former Imperial Household Agency employee who is an expert on the Imperial family, is concerned about a further decrease in the number of female Imperial family members.
"Female Imperial family members, the same as the males, play an important role in making the presence of the Imperial family felt by the public," he said.
A government advisory panel tasked with discussing measures to ease the Emperor's burden of official duties said in its final report to the prime minister, which was compiled in April, "It is necessary to start discussions swiftly on measures against the decreasing number of the Imperial family members."
One of the ideas as a measure to stem the decreasing number is the creation of female Imperial branches.
In October 2012, when the then Democratic Party of Japan (now the Democratic Party, or DP) was in power, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda made public "points of discussion" regarding future Imperial family systems that stated the necessity of creating female Imperial branches.
However, with the second Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe starting in December 2012, the discussion was sent back to the drawing board. The DP, now the largest opposition party, is also asking that the debate on the Emperor's abdication also include discussion of the creation of female Imperial branches.
In March, the chiefs and deputy chiefs of both chambers of the Diet coordinated the opinions of each party and parliamentary group and compiled proposals put forward from the Diet to the prime minister.
The proposals include aiming to ask the government to discuss the creation of female Imperial branches for a more stable Imperial succession and put it in the Diet resolution accompanying the enactment of the special measures law.
Female Imperial family members, the same as the males, play an important role in making the presence of the Imperial family felt by the publicShinji Yamashita
The government plans to approve at a Cabinet meeting on Friday a bill to establish the special measures law to realise the abdication of the Emperor. Ruling and opposition parties intend to reach a consensus on the Diet resolution before starting deliberations on the bill. It is likely that they will begin to discuss the Diet resolution in a full-fledged manner immediately after the Diet approval of the bill.
"Keeping in mind the decreasing number of Imperial family members, we should draw a conclusion in a timely fashion about how female Imperial branches should be," Hiroshi Ogushi, the chairman of the DP's Policy Research Committee, told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday. "We'd like to urge each party to promote discussions of ways of incorporating the creation of female Imperial branches into the Diet resolution."
However, there is a deep-rooted, cautious view about creating female Imperial branches within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party because it could lead to female Imperial family members and their descendants being granted the right to ascend the throne.
Abe also contributed a story to a monthly magazine in 2012, when the LDP to which Abe belongs was an opposition party, to the effect that "Approving female Imperial branches could undermine the tradition of Imperial succession that has continued to the 125th Emperor."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference on Wednesday, "We want to wait calmly for an official announcement" of the engagement of Princess Mako.
Asked about the decreasing number of Imperial family members, he said, "We will seriously consider proposals compiled by the chiefs and deputy chiefs of both chambers of the Diet [that called on the government to consider the creation of female Imperial branches], and continue to promote discussions on steady Imperial succession."