TOKYO • It has been nearly 250 years since a woman last held the title to Japan's Chrysanthemum Throne, and almost that long since an emperor abdicated the position.
Now, as Japan moves to accommodate Emperor Akihito's desire to give up the throne before he dies, many Japanese believe it is also time to clear the way for a woman to reign again some day.
Last August, Emperor Akihito, 83, signalled he wanted to step down, telling the nation that he worried he would not be able to fulfil his duties much longer. The Imperial Household Law, which governs the succession of emperors in the world's oldest monarchy, makes no provision for abdication.
But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's governing party indicated this month it would consider one-time legislation to let the emperor give up the throne.
Polls show that a vast majority of Japanese believe the law should be permanently overhauled, not just superseded once.
Most respondents said that the law, which has been in place since 1947, should also be changed to admit women as rightful heirs to the throne.
Earlier this month, when a government-appointed panel tacitly recommended special legislation that would allow only Emperor Akihito to abdicate, it made no mention of the possibility of admitting women as heirs to the throne. Mr Abe, a conservative, has not explicitly spoken on the subject either.
The issue remains contentious among conservative supporters of Mr Abe's governing Liberal Democratic Party. They consider the male line of succession to be sacrosanct.
If the current emperor is allowed to abdicate, he will be succeeded by his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, 56. If the Imperial Household Law changes to allow female successors, next in line would be the crown prince's only child, Princess Aiko, 15.
Under current law, his successor would be his nephew, Prince Hisahito, 10, the only boy of his generation in the imperial family.