TOKYO -- Japanese Emperor Naruhito's younger brother said Friday that the royal family can perform only a limited number of duties because its membership is declining sharply.
Crown Prince Fumihito, better known as Prince Akishino, is now next in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne after his father, Akihito, abdicated at the end of April and his brother Naruhito succeeded him in May.
The family faces declining numbers, with Akihito and his wife now retired and their three granddaughters expected to lose royal status when they marry commoners under the current Imperial House Law.
"Those who are building international goodwill are decreasing, but in a way there is nothing we can do," the crown prince said. "I think those among us who are able can only do so much."
Akishino told reporters at the Akasaka East Residence on Friday ahead of a trip to Finland and Poland that the scaling down of imperial duties is inevitable and needs broad public discussion.
"We can engage in broader activities if there are more people in the next generation, but if you look at the current situation, I believe it is necessary to examine what to do."
Official duties increased during the reign of Akihito, who actively interacted with the public, including visiting disaster-hit areas to console residents, and became a hugely popular emperor.
Naruhito's succession left only two younger males in line for the throne — 53-year-old Akishino and his 12-year-old son, Hisahito.
Naruhito's 17-year-old daughter, Aiko, and Akishino's daughters Mako and Kako are not in line because they are female.
The imperial family has 13 women, including six who could marry and lose their royal status in coming years.
Akishino said he believes royal duties can be shared equally regardless of gender, but declined to comment on whether female emperors should be allowed.
The government earlier considered the possibility of female emperors, but the discussion halted as soon as Hisahito was born. Surveys have shown that most Japanese support having female emperors, as Aiko has become increasingly popular.
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