26 OCTOBER 2005

Click here to send this news item to a friend Japan's little Princess Aiko looks almost certain to one day become Empress after an advisory committee appointed by the prime minister recommended that women should be allowed to accede to the Chrysanthemum throne. The decision, which was made by a special ten-man panel of the country's top academics, business leaders and public figures, is likely to resolve the succession crisis which has been dogging the Imperial Household in recent times. Under the current system girls are prohibited from acceding to the throne, but the fact Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Masako have not had any male children has forced the country to consider an amendment. Intense pressure to deliver a male heir has also been blamed for the crown princess' ongoing emotional difficulties. The 41-year-old, who is said to be suffering from depression, has largely withdrawn from public life.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has openly declared his support for a change in the law, while opinion polls show over 80 per cent of the public is in favour. In order for such a change to get the green light a majority vote in both houses of parliament would also be necessary, but surveys of politicians show this is all but guaranteed.

The panel's proposals, which are expected to be formally submitted next month, will also have implications for the structure of the Imperial Household. As things stand princesses receive smaller allowances than their male siblings and they are also required to leave the royal family when they marry. This is expected to change, however, along with the patrilineal system that could prevent Aiko's children from one day succeeding her.

One existing tradition that is likely to stay in place is the requirement that future emperors receive a special education from an early age. So even though Japan's little princess is still only three years old, the country's political leaders are under some pressure to act as quickly as possible.

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Three-year-old Aiko is likely to become Empress of her homeland. In this picture she is seen with her mother, Masako, who is suffering a stress-related disorderPhoto: © AFPClick on photo to enlarge
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