Japan should change its succession laws to let women take the throne, a government panel has concluded.
The change could allow Princess Aiko (left) to ascend the throne
The 10-member panel has been debating the issue since January in response to a crisis facing the Imperial Household.
Japan's 71-year-old ruling emperor, Akihito, has two sons and a daughter, but none of them have so far produced a male heir to ensure the succession.
A change to the Imperial Household Law requires approval by Japan's parliament.
"We agreed that from next meeting we will proceed with putting together a report that recommends expanding imperial succession to include females and their descendants," Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, head of the advisory panel to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, told journalists.
The Imperial Household's main succession hopes lie with Akihito's eldest son Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Masako.
Currently only males can ascend the Japanese throne
Emperor Akihito has two sons, Naruhito and Akishino
If Naruhito died without a male heir, his brother, Akishino, succeeds
But he has no sons either
Their sister, Princess Sayako, is marrying a commoner so her children cannot ascend throne
But analysts believe the pressure on Masako to bear a male heir contributed to stress-related illnesses which stopped her fulfilling official duties for more than a year.
If the rules were changed, her three-year-old daughter, Princess Aiko, could succeed instead.
The panel - which includes former UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata and Hiroshi Okuda, chairman of the Japan Business Federation - will put the proposal in their report to the government.
Two options are believed to be under consideration, according to the BBC's Tokyo correspondent Chris Hogg.
The law could be changed to allow one of the young princesses to one day become empress, or former members of the old aristocracy who left the Imperial Family after Japan's defeat in World War II could possibly be brought back.
A bill to change the Imperial Household Law's succession rules could be presented to parliament next year, according to Kyodo news agency.
Opinion polls suggest that allowing a woman to ascend the throne would have broad support.
But our correspondent says that behind the walls of the Imperial Palace, the emperor takes part in many rituals that have only ever been carried out by men. There are many at court who would fiercely resist such a change in the law of succession.
Japan has had female monarchs before - between the 6th and 18th centuries - but all have reigned in emergency circumstances and none had children who then ascended the throne.
Do you think that Japan should change its succession laws to allow women take the throne? Are you concerned about about the succession crisis facing the Imperial Household?
I wonder what the significance of the Imperial Family is for the Japanese society today. With the change in the meaning of the Emperor to the nation and to the society, I feel the time will come where we have to face the discussion whether we should keep the Imperial Household system as it is, no matter whether the men or women take the throne.
The imperial family should remain as they have been for thousands of years. Needless to say, Japan's imperial family gives an almost two thousand year legacy to all Japanese nationals with a rich tradition and spiritual centripetality for Japanese. It is by no means something we change in the light of "social circumstance".
Showhey Kotani, Tokyo, Japan
I agree that women should take the throne, but disagree with the change of Agnate Line of the Imperial Family.The panel's conclusion means the Agnate line,which has a history of more than 1500years, might end and shift to female Line. This would be the first thing in Japanese imperial history. Japan should consider again about bringing back former members of the old aristocracy.
Hideki, Kyoto, Japan
I fully agree with the panel that females should be allowed to ascend the throne regardless of the history of the Imperial Household. Social circumstances change with time, and so should Japan. Allowing females to take the throne would hopefully break the tip of the ice berg of this male-dominated society.
Yuki Iida, Hyogo, Japan
I think this old-fashioned monarchy should be abolished, as it has no longer any connection with the realities of life in Japan.
Princess Masako was a very successful diplomat with a sterling academic history before she was (eventually) persuaded to marry the Crown Prince, so I'm quite sure that many Japanese people know of her better than her husband! I would be very surprised if this proposal is eventually rejected by the court, because there seems to be little choice in the matter too! It also seems apt that Masako's daughter should ascend to the throne and bring about some much-needed modernisation to the anachronistic Japanese royal household.
Paul Atkins, Solihull