TOKYO (AP) – Crown Prince Fumihito, younger brother of Japan’s Emperor Naruhito, was formally sworn in as king of the chrysanthemum throne in a traditional palace ceremony on Sunday, which has been postponed for seven months due to a coronavirus epidemic.
The ceremony for the Prince’s old crown prince, better known as Prince Akishino, concludes a series of royal succession ceremonies that began in May last year when Naruhito ascended the throne after leaving his 86-year-old father, Akihito.
Inside the palace’s most prestigious pine room, Naruhito, 60, revealed that his younger brother is now officially the Crown Prince, the first to receive the throne of the world’s oldest monarchy.
“I declare here and outside the country that Prince Fumihito is now the Prince of the Crown,” Naruhito said in his red-brown robe and head. Fumihito, with the orange robe and his wife, Crown Princess Keiko, promised in reply: “I deeply accept my responsibilities as Crown Prince and carry out my duties.”
The 15-minute ceremony, originally scheduled for April 19, was postponed after the Japanese government declared a state of emergency due to an epidemic earlier that month.
Sunday’s ritual was reduced from the original 350,350 to attend, which included Prime Minister Yoshihid Suga and other top government officials, as well as prefectural representatives and selected foreign dignitaries.
In a separate, closed ceremony after Sunday, Fumihito inherited a royal sword that symbolized his status as crown prince.
Other events, including the Palace Banquet and the public signing of congratulatory messages, have been canceled as part of antivirus action.
Sunday’s announcement for the Crown Prince paves the way for the government to begin a debate on what to do with the dire shortage of heirs.
Naruhito’s succession is left with only two young men – Fumihito and his 14-year-old son Hisahito. The 18-year-old daughter of Naruhito, Iko and the two daughters of the Crown Prince, Mako and Kako are not in the line because they are women.
Japan’s imperial house law, largely based on the pre-war constitution, does not allow female emperors and prohibits women from marrying ordinary people.
In 2005, the government considered the possibility of female emperors, but the debate stalled the following year with the birth of Hisahito. Surveys show that most Japanese support having female emperors, as Iko has become increasingly popular.
Suga recently said that after the announcement of the Crown Prince, his government would start studying ways to secure a stable royal succession.
Official duties increased during the reign of the infamous former emperor Akihito, who actively interacted with the public, including visiting disaster areas to reassure residents.
Fumihito, one of the outspoken members of the royal family, has expressed his views on how the family should adapt to modern times. He has said he believes royal duties can be shared equally regardless of gender, although he declined to comment on whether female emperors should be allowed.
The royal family currently has 13 women, including six who may marry in the coming years and lose royal status.
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