If Prime Minister Shinzo Abe caters to public demand and revises the law to allow for an emperor to abdicate, it may cause more harm to his leadership than good.
Japan has seen heated debate about the emperor's role as a symbolic monarch after local media reported last month that Emperor Akihito was considering stepping down. Speculation heightened on Monday when the 82-year-old released a rare video message, expressing concern about how old age was impacting his ability to fulfill official duties, which was widely interpreted as a hint that he wished to retire.
Japan's constitution forbids an emperor to abdicate before death so legal changes will be necessary for Akihito's wish to materialize—something the public greatly supports. 86 percent of over 1,000 respondents believed abdication should be legalized, according to a recent Kyodo News survey.
But once Abe opens debate over revising imperial household law, citizens will use the change to target a greater issue at stake—gender equality—warned Kenneth Rouff, director of the center for Japanese studies at Portland State University.
"We can say with considerable certainty that people are going to raise the issue of why women aren't allowed to serve on the throne," he told CNBC on Tuesday.