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Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006
Nonpartisan effort seen to keep male-only Imperial ascension
By MASAMI ITO
Lawmakers crossed party lines Tuesday to form a parliamentary league seeking to maintain male-only succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne and restore royalty to families that relinquished their status after World War II.
Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Yoshinobu Shimamura, who heads the group, expressed joy and relief over the birth last month of Prince Hisahito to Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko. He was the first male born into the Imperial line in 41 years.
"I am one of the general public who respects the Imperial family and have pride in the traditions of the Imperial household," Shimamura said. "The birth of Prince Hisahito on Sept. 6 was such a joyous (event) that it would have been natural to hold a parade."
Shimamura, who said he was a schoolmate of Emperor Akihito at Gakushuin University, recalled before Princess Kiko's announced pregnancy the tension he felt when heated discussions were held over whether females should be allowed to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne.
"I was ready to engage in battle," Shimamura said. "The center of Japan's traditions lies in the Imperial household . . . and it was about to be completely overturned and reach a ludicrous conclusion."
Last November, an advisory panel to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi proposed revising the Imperial Household Law to allow females to ascend the throne, since at the time the only offspring born in direct line from the Emperor were female, including the youngest, Princess Aiko, daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako.
With public opinion on his side, Koizumi readied a bill based on the panel's recommendations, despite strong opposition from conservative Diet members who wanted the centuries-old male lineage system to remain intact.
The legislation was abruptly put aside, however, with the announcement in February of Princess Kiko's pregnancy. With the birth of Prince Hisahito, the debate has all but ended.
However, Shimamura said debate is now needed on how to maintain the male-line succession, as there are fewer Imperial successors. Prince Hisahito is the third in line to the throne after the Crown Prince, at 46 the emperor's oldest son, and Prince Akishino, 40.
"We must take it one step further and collect (the nonpartisan group's) wisdom to maintain a definite Emperor system," Shimamura said.
The parliamentary league has 201 members, 60 of whom attended the first meeting Tuesday. The group plans to push for a revision to the Imperial House Law to allow former members of the royal family to restore their status to increase the number of male heirs eligible to ascend the throne.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hakubun Shimomura, education minister Bunmei Ibuki and LDP Upper House Caucus chief Mikio Aoki are in the group.
Various high-profile opposition camp politicians have also joined in, including Kozo Watanabe, senior adviser to the Democratic Party of Japan; Tamisuke Watanuki, leader of People's New Party; and Takeo Hiranuma, a former LDP lawmaker kicked out of the party after voting against Koizumi's postal privatization plan in 2005.