Tokyo (AFP) – The younger brother of Japanese Emperor Naruhito, Crown Prince Fumihito, has been formally sworn in as the first to conform to the Chrysanthemum Throne in traditional palace rituals on Sunday that have been postponed for seven months and curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The ceremony for the 54-year-old crown prince, better known as Prince Akishino, concludes a series of imperial succession rituals that began in May last year when Naruhito ascended the throne after their 86-year-old father Akihito abdicated.
Inside the palace’s most famous pine room, Naruhito, 60, announced that his younger brother is now officially the crown prince and is the first to succeed the throne of the world’s oldest monarchy.
“I hereby declare this inside and outside the country that Prince Fumihito is now the crown prince,” said Naruhito, in his reddish-brown robe and headdress. Fumihito, dressed in an orange robe and accompanied by his wife, Crown Prince Princess Keiko, pledged in response: “I greatly appreciate my responsibilities as crown prince and do my duties.”
The nearly 15-minute ceremony, tentatively scheduled for April 19, was postponed after the Japanese government issued a state of emergency earlier that month due to the pandemic.
Sunday rituals have been curtailed from 350 originally to about 50 people including Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and other high-ranking government officials, as well as provincial representatives and select foreign dignitaries.
In a separate closed ceremony later on Sunday, Fumihito inherited an imperial sword to symbolize his status as crown prince.
Minors’ banquets and other events including public signing of congratulatory letters have been canceled as part of anti-virus measures.
Sunday’s announcement by the crown prince paves the way for the government to begin discussing what to do with the severe shortage of heirs.
Naruhito’s succession left only two young men in line to the throne – Fumihito and his 14-year-old son Hisahito. Naruhito’s 18-year-old daughter, Aiko, and the two daughters of Crown Prince Mako and Kako are not in line because they are women.
The Japanese Imperial House Law, which is largely based on the prewar constitution, does not allow a female emperor and forbids women when they marry a commoner.
The government in 2005 considered the possibility of female emperors, but the debate stalled once Hisahito was born the following year. Surveys have shown that most Japanese are in favor of female Emperors, as Aiko has become increasingly popular.
Suga recently said that his government would begin to study ways to secure a stable imperial succession after the crown prince’s proclamation.
Official duties increased under the reign of the hugely popular former Emperor Akihito, who actively interacted with the public, including visiting the stricken areas to console the residents.
Fumihito, an outspoken member of the imperial family, expressed his views on how the family would adapt to the modern era. He said he believed royal duties could be shared equally regardless of gender, though he declined to comment on whether female emperors should be allowed.
The imperial family currently includes 13 women, of whom six could marry and lose their royal status in the coming years.
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