By Associated Press
TOKYO -- Japan's prime minister said Thursday the government should study the possibility of allowing women in the royal 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.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he intended to seek a national debate on the matter.
"From the viewpoint of stability, this is a matter of urgency," Noda said at a news conference.
Noda did not give a timeline or say how the discussion would occur.
A revision could lead to discussion of allowing female members to succeed the currently male-only Chrysanthemum throne.
Emperor Akihito, 77, has only three eligible male successors – his two sons and a grandson.
Thursday marked the 10th birthday of Princess Aiko, the only child of Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako.
Prince Akishino, the emperor's second son, said he hoped he and his brother are given a chance to provide their views.
"Keeping the imperial family to a small number is not bad in light of national budget," he told a news conference last month marking his 46th birthday. "Naturally, we need a certain number to maintain the imperial family as is."
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.
Click through the slideshow below for more royal/commoner pairings: