Tokyo: The 100-year-old uncle of Japanese Emperor Akihito, Prince Mikasa, died on Thursday, leaving only four heirs to the Chrysanthemum throne, the Imperial Household Agency said.
Mikasa`s death coincides with renewed attention to the future of the ageing and shrinking imperial family and whether women should be allowed to inherit the throne, breaking a males-only succession tradition that conservatives say is central to an imperial tradition stretching back 2,600 years.
Mikasa was the youngest brother of the current emperor`s father, Hirohito, in whose name Japan fought World War Two.
The prince, a scholar of ancient Oriental history, taught at colleges, and served as honorary president of the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan and the Japan-Turkey Society.
Emperor Akihito, 82, hinted in August that he wanted to abdicate - a step unprecedented in modern Japan and not possible under current law. The remaining four male heirs include 10-year-old Prince Hisahito, the emperor`s only grandson.
The three older heirs are Akihito`s 80-year-old brother and his two middle-aged sons including Crown Prince Naruhito.