The government will hold its first meeting on Wednesday to study the possibility of allowing women in the imperial family to keep their imperial status after marriage.
Japanese law requires female members marrying a commoner to officially leave the monarchy. That has palace officials worried because more than a third of Japan's 23 imperial family members are single women and girls, some approaching marriage age.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said a panel of experts will discuss whether female members of the imperial family should be able to create their own family branches. The question of imperial succession -- specifically whether a woman should be able to become the reigning monarch -- will not be on the agenda, Fujimura said.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said last year that he intended to seek a national debate on the succession issue. "From the viewpoint of stability, this is a matter of urgency," Noda said.
Emperor Akihito, 78, has only three eligible male successors -- his two sons and a grandson.
Prince Akishino, 46, the emperor's second son, said last year: "Keeping the imperial family to a small number is not bad in light of national budget. Naturally, we need a certain number to maintain the imperial family as is."© Japan Today/AP