TV & Radio
The Times February 08, 2006
From Leo Lewis in Tokyo
JAPANESE politics and the world’s oldest Royal Family were thrown into turmoil yesterday by news that the wife of the Emperor’s younger son is six weeks pregnant.
The leak so early in Princess Kiko’s pregnancy appeared designed to scupper plans by Junichiro Koizumi, the Prime Minister, to change imperial law so that Aiko, Crown Prince Naruhito’s four-year-old daughter, can succeed to the throne in the absence of a male heir.
Japan must now endure months of suspense before it learns whether Princess Kiko’s baby is a boy, which would end the succession crisis.
If it is a girl, however, the battle to allow Aiko to become Japan’s first empress since the 18th century would resume without its champion, as Mr Koizumi said that he would step down in September.
The leak caused astonishment across Japan, and there was speculation over its timely appearance. Many believe that word of Princess Kiko’s pregnancy may have come from the staff of her husband, Prince Akishino. Its effect, say analysts, will be to quash all talk of imperial law revisions until after the baby is born.
But the media reported that the leak, to NHK, the state broadcaster, may have occurred before Princess Kiko had a chance to telephone her husband with confirmation of their news. That would suggest it came from the hospital in Tokyo where the Princess had an ultrasound scan yesterday.
Either way, the leak plays perfectly to the swelling and vocal group of politicians and academics who fiercely reject the Prime Minister’s solution to the succession crisis.
The battle has been looming for several years and the pressure on Princess Kiko, 39, and Prince Akishino, 40, will be enormous. For Prince Akishino, becoming the father of a future emperor would demand a sharp increase in royal duties and possible shift in demeanour. The alleged romances and partying of his younger days remain a favorite subject of gossip magazines.
The couple will learn the sex of the unborn baby around May, but would be breaking an imperial household taboo to reveal anything at that stage.
Crown Prince Naruhito has produced no male heir and the ill-health of his wife, Princess Masako, makes the prospect of his doing so increasingly unlikely. Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko have two daughters, Kako, 11, and Mako, 14, and until yesterday it was assumed that their child-bearing days were behind them.
The fate of Mr Koizumi’s proposed amendments to the 1947 imperial law, which bars female descendents from the throne, is now in doubt.
Successive opinion polls show overwhelming popular support for the amendments, and pushing them through would have been a final legacy, Cabinet sources say. But Princess Kiko’s pregnancy leaves the plans in doubt.
Analysts said that if Mr Koizumi successfully pressed ahead with his proposed revisions and the child turns out to be a boy, the public would be left with the task of choosing between the legitimate heir under the old law and Aiko, a toddler for whom the country has enormous affection.
Tsuneyasu Takeda, a veteran royal commentator, said: “Now people know a baby is on the way, there is no time to create a new version of the Bill before the Diet session. The precondition of the argument for revising imperial law was that we were facing a succession crisis. But now we know we might get a baby boy so the crisis has not begun yet.”
Mr Koizumi defended his haste in pushing the Bill through the current parliamentary session. He said this was necessary so that Princess Aiko could be educated “with the awareness that she will one day assume the throne”.
But his contentious Bill has already unleashed a fierce revolt within the Cabinet, drawing open criticism from the Foreign and Finance Ministers.
More than 135 ruling party MPs have also expressed opposition to the move. They believe that it would corrupt an imperial line that is supposedly unbroken as far back as the Sun Goddess. Princess Kiko’s pregnancy provides eight months of breathing space.
The traditionalists do not have many suggestions in the event that there is no male heir, but they have time to produce some. Some have proposed, in a bizarre echo of history, that Prince Naruhito be introduced to concubines and encouraged to breed until a boy is born.
Japan princess's pregnancy renews chance for male heir
By Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press | February 8, 2006
TOKYO -- Princess Kiko is pregnant, the Imperial Household Agency said yesterday, raising the possibility of the first male heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 40 years.
The announcement came as the government considered a plan to allow a woman to assume the throne for the first time in two centuries in a bid to avert a succession crisis. Kiko's husband, Prince Akishino, is second in line to the throne.
Agency chief Shingo Haketa said Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko were delighted at the news of Kiko's pregnancy.
The princess had an ultrasound yesterday morning and felt the fetus move, Kyodo News agency said, adding that she is expected to give birth in September or October. Kyodo cited agency sources it did not identify.
The news prompted applause at a parliamentary committee meeting attended by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi earlier in the day as Japanese media began reporting on the pregnancy hours before the Imperial Household Agency announcement.
''We'd like to celebrate the news with the people," said Katsuya Okada, a member of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan.
Kiko, 39, the wife of Prince Akishino, has two daughters, aged 14 and 11. Crown Prince Naruhito, first in line to the throne, has one daughter with his wife, Crown Princess Masako.
Enormous pressures to produce a male heir and adjust to palace life contributed to a stress-induced condition that caused Masako to withdraw from public activities in December 2003.
The lack of a male heir has prompted the government to consider changing a 1947 law so that Naruhito's 4-year-old daughter, Aiko, could one day take the throne. The law at present allows only males to reign.
Koizumi called for early consideration of the popular measure, despite criticism by conservatives and the new prospect of a male heir being born.
''If we wait, it is uncertain that a boy may or may not be born," he told lawmakers. ''To ensure the stable continuity of Japan's imperial family, we cannot put the issue off any longer. It is desirable that parliamentary debate is carried out in a calm, careful manner at the earliest opportunity."
The proposal, however, has ignited a wide-ranging debate in Japan.
Conservative opponents argue that allowing a woman to reign -- and pass the throne to her offspring -- would corrupt a millennia-old Japanese tradition, which they say is based on the maintenance of the male lineage.
Under those restrictions, a son delivered by Kiko would provide a suitable male heir, since he would carry the ''imperial" Y-chromosome from Akishino.
Some critics have called for bringing back imperial concubines -- as were used until the early 20th century -- to breed male heirs. Others say the wider aristocracy, banned after World War II, should be reinstated to widen the pool of candidates for the throne.
Okada urged a cautious approach to Koizumi's proposal, saying it would be ''too hasty" to push it through the current parliament.
''I find it really awkward," he said. ''For the future stability of the royal family, we should give enough time to allow more thorough discussion," he said.
In the 1,500 or so years that Japan's royal family has reigned, only eight empresses have ruled. The most recent was Gosakuramachi, who ascended the throne in 1763. The practice over the centuries has been to use men whenever possible, and the 1947 law codified the tradition.
Last month, at the annual imperial verse-reading ceremony, both Akishino and Kiko wrote about storks.
The agency denied the poems indicated the possibility of the couple's having a third child, saying they were simply recalling a visit to a ceremony last year in which protected storks were released into the wild.
Baby-goods stocks jumped following the reports of Kiko's pregnancy, although the benchmark Nikkei was slightly down.
The Los Angeles Times
February 8, 2006 latimes.com : World News
Fraud Scandal, Succession Law Put Koizumi's Clout to the Test
As the Japanese prime minister pushes controversial legislation, his opponents gain from his ties to a disgraced Internet mogul.
By Bruce Wallace, Times Staff Writer
TOKYO — You don't mess with 1,500 years of tradition and a link to the Sun Goddess without provoking a fight, so perhaps it should be no surprise that a backlash has materialized against Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's plan to allow women to ascend to Japan's imperial throne.
But the gathering tempest over what seemed to be just another of Koizumi's modernizing steps is a measure of how his iron grip on Japanese politics has weakened in recent weeks.
Regarded as virtually unassailable after his crushing electoral win in September, the prime minister has seen opponents come back to attack on several fronts, from his handling of the imperial succession changes to his ties to fraud suspect Takafumi Horie.
Tuesday's announcement of an unexpected pregnancy that might produce another male heir in an imperial family that was running out of them has further rallied opponents of Koizumi's rush to change the male-only succession law.
The pregnancy of Princess Kiko, 39, wife of the second-in-line to the throne, removed the sense of urgency Koizumi was counting on to institute the change before he leaves office in September.
Koizumi vowed to press ahead with a new succession law, but the news was just the latest blow to knock him off stride. Re-energized critics have questioned the durability of the prime minister's agenda for economic reform and the fate of a foreign policy defined by coziness with Washington and frosty relations with neighbors China and South Korea.
Such a rebellion against the Koizumi brand of politics seemed unthinkable a month ago. His landslide win had left opponents discredited as "forces of resistance" and mostly cowed into silence. Koizumi's place in history as one of Japan's most powerful postwar leaders was already being written and he was preparing to anoint a successor who would continue dismantling the old power structure.
"Koizumi's great ambition was to surpass his predecessors and become the 'super kingmaker,' and until recently I thought he would succeed," Takashi Tachibana, a leading commentator, said of the prime minister's ambition to remake Japanese politics. "But the tide has changed. Now there are many voices of opposition, and his chance to be a super kingmaker is gone."
The kryptonite in this case may have been the arrest of Horie, the brash symbol of go-go capitalism and head of Internet portal Livedoor Co. who ran as a candidate for parliament in the last election under Koizumi's reform banner.
Horie was hardly a political sophisticate, and had previously been thought of more as a party animal than a party man. But to Koizumi, he was a walking billboard for the youthful anti-establishment mood the prime minister's reelection campaign was trying to create.
Now Horie sits in a police detention center, being grilled by prosecutors who suspect Livedoor was built on financial fraud. Media that once touted his lifestyle excesses with celebrities and his "greed is good" speeches now wag fingers at him. Images of a sweaty Horie dancing with fellow executives at a party in December have run back-to-back on television alongside campaign outtakes of him standing beside members of the prime minister's inner guard, including Heizo Takenaka, the architect of Koizumi's push for smaller government and market liberalization.
The prime minister's embarrassment has provided badly needed oxygen for the old guard, giving them the political legitimacy to strike back.
Significantly, many of those opposed to Koizumi's reforms are also those most inclined to seek better relations with China. They have been alarmed by the damage done to Japan's standing in Asia by Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japan's more than 2 million war dead — including the war criminals deemed responsible for launching the invasions across Asia that led to disastrous defeat.
And they worry that Koizumi seems to be paving the way to be succeeded by Shinzo Abe, an outspoken defender of visits to Yasukuni.
Many observers see the recent political upheaval, from the Horie affair to the fracas over the imperial succession, as signs of a struggle within the country's political, business and media establishments over Koizumi's successor — and by extension, the future of Japanese policy toward China.
"The Japanese mass media have exaggerated the Livedoor scandal, but it's just gossip," said Naoki Murakami, senior economist at Goldman Sachs in Tokyo, who argued there is a consensus in economic circles on the need to continue with reforms. "The real point is: Who will be the next prime minister?"
In that struggle, Koizumi has cultivated some powerful enemies, among them Tsuneo Watanabe, the influential publisher of the conservative Yomiuri media empire.
It was Watanabe's concern about deteriorating relations with China that led Yomiuri Shimbun, the nation's largest-circulation newspaper, to switch positions last year and join calls for the creation of a new national war memorial. Many Japanese have begun arguing for a secular memorial, divorced from the Shinto shrine's vision of Japan as a misunderstood victim of World War II.
"I think Japan's Asian diplomacy will be destroyed for good if Koizumi's successor is someone who supports prime ministers who make official visits to Yasukuni," Watanabe said in a recent magazine interview.
The recent explosion of political trouble is traceable to the determination of the pro-China crowd to ensure the leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party passes to someone with more accommodating views on Yasukuni, Tachibana said.
That may still be a tall order, but there is evidence to suggest Koizumi's ability to dictate events has waned. His economic reforms have come under harsh attack for allegedly leading to greater disparities of wealth, creating a society of winners and losers.
It was notable that a key figure in last week's attacks against allowing 4-year-old Princess Aiko to someday ascend the throne was Takeo Hiranuma, a former LDP trade minister chased from the party by Koizumi. Instead of finding himself confined to the dustbin of politics, Hiranuma addressed a Tokyo rally last week, warning that "if Aiko becomes the reigning empress and gets involved with a blue-eyed foreigner while studying abroad and marries him, their child may be the emperor."
Meanwhile the number of politicians urging caution on changing the law of succession is swelling, and includes some of those known as "Koizumi's children," a new generation of 83 lawmakers who owe their parliamentary seats to his reformist campaign.
On Friday, two senior Cabinet members dared to cross Koizumi by coming out against the push to change the succession law.
"Is this a bill we must handle rashly?" asked Foreign Minister Taro Aso, also touted as a leadership candidate, who clearly saw benefit in putting some distance between himself and Koizumi on the issue even before Princess Kiko's pregnancy was revealed. "It is necessary to have more debate."
Japanese Princess Expects, and Many Hope (for a Boy)