Besides battling an ageing population, Japan now faces issues concerning its male-only succession rule in the imperial household, for which the government announced on Tuesday that it would form a committee to explore options.

Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a vibrant electoral democracy where elections are held every four years. The monarchy has a nominal role but it has the highest regard in the country of 126 million.

An imperial law passed in 1947 allows only males to ascend the throne. It was in 2019 that Emperor Akihito, 87, abdicated, allowing his son, Naruhito, 61, to take the crown.

“Securing a stable imperial succession is an important issue concerning the nation’s basis,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a news conference, according to Kyodo News.

He said a six-member panel will discuss the male-only imperial succession rule.

“Panel members are expected to hold discussions without making prejudgments,” said Kato.

Akihito remained the top monarch for 30 years. He is the first monarch to abdicate in 202 years of Japan’s imperial history.

But there is concern among Japanese people and the government about the dwindling number of royal family members.

The 1947 Imperial House Law also requires women marrying commoners to abandon their royal status.

Emperor Naruhito has three heirs — his younger brother Crown Prince Fumihito, 55, nephew Prince Hisahito, 14, and uncle Prince Hitachi, 85.

Naruhito and his wife Empress Masako have one daughter Princess Aiko who is 19 years old.

There has been a debate about allowing women members of the Imperial House to rise to the throne but conservatives in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have expressed reluctance.

“Under current circumstances, male-only succession should be given priority,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in January.

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