Japan's little prince could be last emperor on unreformed Chrysanthemum Throne

Thu Oct 13, 2016 7:07pm EDT
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By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - When Prince Hisahito was born in 2006, ending a 41-year drought in imperial male heirs, Japan's government gladly dropped proposals that women might head the world's oldest monarchy, but a decade later the little prince remains the last hope for an unreformed Chrysanthemum Throne.

The issue is back in focus after Emperor Akihito, 82, hinted two months ago at abdication, with only five heirs in the line of succession, including Hisahito, his sole grandson.

The four older heirs are Akihito's centenarian uncle, an 80-year-old brother, and two middle-aged sons whose wives are in their early 50s.

In a rare televised address, Akihito said in August he worried age might make it hard to fulfill his duties. The remarks were interpreted as a desire to abdicate, a step unprecedented in modern Japan and not possible under current law.

The succession quandary has long weighed on Akihito's mind, Japanese media and royal watchers say.

"As the head of the imperial family, the emperor has a great sense of crisis that the royals will disappear," said a veteran Japanese journalist and long-time royal watcher, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

In a country where the population is rapidly aging and projected to shrink about 30 percent by 2060, the dwindling royal family exemplifies a much larger trend that is also hitting succession planning at Japanese family firms.

Next week a panel appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will start considering the topic of abdication. Domestic media and academics say the government appears to be leaning towards one-off legislation that would let Akihito step down in favor of eldest son Crown Prince Naruhito, Hisahito's uncle.   Continued...

Japan's Prince Hisahito, the only son of Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, poses at a rice field of the Akasaka Detached Palace in Tokyo, Japan  in this handout picture taken August 10, 2016, and provided by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan. Prince Hisahito turned 10 years old on September 6, 2016. Imperial Household Agency of Japan/Handout via Reuters