Tokyo: Japan has formally crowned Prince Akishino heir as the first in line heir to the throne in a ceremony that took place on Sunday. This has been the last in a line of a series of ceremonies. The announcement came a year after his elder brother, Emperor Naruhito, became the monarch after their father's abdication.

The day-long ceremonies at the palace had been scheduled for April but were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic and have been scaled back as infection keeps rising, although Japan has escaped the explosive outbreak seen in many other countries.

Prince Akishino was the one who was crowned, and not Princess Aiko as, according to the Japanese law, the only male can inherit the throne, which makes Naruhito's only offspring, 18-year-old Princess Aiko, ineligible to sit on the throne. There have been discussions to scrap this rule in the past, however, the discussions came to an end when Akishino's wife gave birth to a son, Hisahito, in 2006.

The ceremonies this time were not organised at a large scale and were kept as a low-key affair due to the fear of a possible spread of the novel coronavirus. The newly crowned Prince was standing at a distance from his supporters, who were all seen wearing a mask. "I deeply ponder the responsibility of Crown Prince and will discharge my duties," the 54-year-old Akishino said.

Akishino, 54, is one of just three heirs to the throne along with Hisahito, 14, and Prince Hitachi, 84, the younger brother of Emperor Emeritus Akihito, who stepped down last year in Japan`s first abdication in two centuries.

People of Japan are now, once again, discussing the importance of letting women, too, take over the throne if the King has no son, or if the Princess is the oldest sibling in the royal family. However, no such official discussion has been initiated on this topic yet.

Changes to the succession law are anathema to conservatives, but debate over how to ensure a stable succession is likely to intensify.

One option is to allow females, including Aiko and Hisahito's two elder sisters, to retain their imperial status after marriage and inherit or pass the throne to their children, a change that surveys show most ordinary Japanese favour.

Conservatives want to revive junior royal branches stripped of imperial status after the war.