The Japanese government said Monday it plans to engage in full-fledged discussions on achieving a stable imperial succession after Crown Prince Fumihito announces his status as first in line to the throne in a ceremony in April.

It was the first time that top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga had referred to such a timing, with parliament calling for early discussion of the matter.

(Japan's imperial family)
[Photo courtesy of the Imperial Household Agency]

The size of Japan's imperial family has been decreasing under the 1947 Imperial House Law that states only males in the paternal line can ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne.

The crown prince, the younger brother of Emperor Naruhito, is scheduled to announce his status as first in line to the throne in the "Rikkoshi senmei no gi" ceremony on April 19, and a series of events related to the announcement will conclude with court banquets on April 21.

The emperor and Empress Masako have one daughter, Princess Aiko.

Opinion regarding the imperial succession is divided even within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, with a conservative grouping calling for the imperial status of unmarried men from collateral branches of the family to be restored if they wish, as part of measures to ensure stable succession.

Speaking at a House of Representatives committee session, Suga, chief Cabinet secretary, said the government has yet to ask the male members of such branches whether they wish the status to be restored or not, and that it has no plan to do so at the moment.

Suga acknowledged that government officials have already started hearing opinions from experts on an individual basis and studying various possibilities based on current discussions as the issue of the declining size of the imperial family is an urgent matter that should be tackled without delay.

The crown prince's declaration will be the last in a series of ceremonies held for the imperial succession following former Emperor Akihito's abdication in April last year, the first by a Japanese monarch in over 200 years.

The emperor's enthronement in May left three heirs to the throne -- the crown prince, 54, the crown prince's son Prince Hisahito, 13, and Prince Hitachi, 84, the uncle of the emperor.

The current law stipulates female members of the imperial family have to abandon their imperial status after they marry commoners.

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