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Male-only imperial line backed

TOKYO: With the blood of an emperor flowing through his veins, Tsuneyasu Takeda has been making waves by suggesting distant royal relatives should be ready to help preserve Japan's tradition of male imperial succession.

But Takeda, a bespectacled 30-year-old bachelor, said that he'd find it daunting if asked to play that role himself.

Plans to revise the succession law to let women and their children inherit the throne have been put on hold following news that Princess Kiko, 39, the wife of Emperor Akihito's second son, was pregnant, raising hopes that a male heir might be born.

No male has been born into the imperial family since the birth of Kiko's husband, Akishino, in 1965. Crown Prince Naruhito, 45, and Crown Princess Masako, 42, have a 4-year-old daughter, Aiko, while Kiko and Akishino have two daughters.

Takeda, a member of one of 11 former princely houses that were abolished after Japan's defeat in the Second World War, has grabbed media attention by speaking out against the proposed revisions.

The author of a book titled The Untold Truth of Imperial Family Members that was published last month, Takeda says the succession should remain limited to males descended from an emperor through the paternal line.

"The world's oldest wooden architecture is Horyuji temple, but if it were to be rebuilt with concrete because it decayed... it would no longer be Horyuji," Takeda said referring to a famed Japanese temple built around the 7th century.

Takeda, a great-great-grandson of Emperor Meiji, who reigned from 1867 to 1912, says one way to avoid future succession crises might be to restore the former princely houses or allow the emperor and imperial family to adopt males from those families.

But although Takeda has written that such men should feel a responsibility to maintain the royal house, he said he would feel overwhelmed if asked to step in to fill the gap.

"Sometimes people say it would be good if I were to... return to imperial status, but that is something that I would be overawed by," said Takeda, who was raised as a commoner. "It's something I can't even imagine."

The education of an imperial heir, a position devoid of political power but steeped in tradition, usually begins at the age of three.

Takeda, who earns a living by writing books, collaborating on scripts for educational TV programmes and lecturing about history and environmental issues, says Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was wise to put the succession law revisions on the back burner.

"With the news of the pregnancy, there is now an environment where discussions can proceed cautiously while devoting sufficient time," he wrote in a recent entry on his website, adding that a decision should be made based on public consensus.

Opinion polls have shown a majority of the public support the idea of letting women ascend the throne and pass it on to their children, but traditionalists are keen to preserve a male-only imperial line they say stretches back more than 2,000 years.

Japan has had eight reigning empresses, the last in the 18th century, but conservatives stress that none passed the throne on to a child who was not of the imperial paternal line.

Takeda, who likes to devote time to research on Japan's 19th century Emperor Komei, has had some exciting experiences, his modest appearance and scholarly pursuits notwithstanding.

In his book, he describes a visit in 2003 to Iraq to make efforts for peace and a brush with death in a bus accident in China in 1994 that killed several people. "People think that I must have been raised in a special way or that I lead a special daily life, but I personally don't think it's been all that special," Takeda said.



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