Prince Tomohito, a cousin of Japanese Emperor Akihito, died Wednesday after bouts with various ailments, the Imperial Household Agency said. He was 66.
Tomohito, sixth in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne, died at a Tokyo hospital, where media reports said he had been receiving treatment and was in serious condition, suffering organ failures.
The Imperial Household Agency did not give a cause of death, but Tomohito had battled several illnesses, including throat cancer. He had undergone several cancer-related operations since 1991 and was treated for alcoholism in 2007.
Tomohito was the eldest son of Prince Mikasa and Princess Yuriko. Mikasa is the younger brother of Hirohito, the wartime emperor and father of Akihito.
The public fondly called Tomohito "the bearded prince," referring to his full beard, unusual for Japanese royalty.
In 2005, he set off a stir when he wrote an essay saying Japan should exhaust all options, including bringing back concubines, before allowing a woman to ascend to the imperial throne.
At that time, neither of Akihito's two sons had produced a male heir, and Japan was abuzz about a succession crisis. A special panel on imperial succession then recommended that women be allowed to ascend to the throne.
But in 2006, Akihito's younger son had a boy, Hisahito, solving the dilemma.
Under the country's postwar constitution, imperial family members have no political power. Their role is largely symbolic, such as meeting foreign dignitaries and attending concerts and sports events.
But Japanese feel an emotional attachment to the emperor. Thousands of people throng to the palace and wave to him and his family on special days.
Tomohito is survived by his wife, Nobuko, and two daughters.
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