TV & Radio
Pregnancy may force rethink on female heirs for Japan throne
Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Thursday February 9, 2006
Junichiro Koizumi, Japan's prime minister, yesterday appeared close to abandoning plans to alter the imperial succession law, a day after it was revealed that Princess Kiko, the wife of the second in line to the throne, was pregnant.
On Monday Mr Koizumi had repeated his determination to revise, by mid-June, a 1947 law banning females from ascending the Chrysanthemum throne. Yesterday he admitted that public opinion was now split and that more time was needed to discuss the proposed change.
"I want to proceed cautiously so as not to make this a political tool. It would be better for the bill to revise the imperial household law to be enacted after cautious discussions and in a manner that convinces everybody that this is a desirable revision," he said.
The news that Kiko, 39, is six weeks pregnant will embolden conservative politicians and academics who are determined to derail the plan, a key constitutional reform of Mr Koizumi's administration. Kiko's baby is due in September, the same month Mr Koizumi is expected to step down as prime minister.
If the baby is a boy, he will solve a succession crisis triggered by the dearth of male heirs. He would be third in line to the throne after his uncle, Crown Prince Naruhito, and his father, Prince Akishino. But if there is a girl, who would be the couple's third, Japan will again have to face up to an imperial crisis.
No boys have been born into the imperial family since Akishino in 1965, and the public has shown little enthusiasm for alternative suggestions, such as finding a male among the descendants of aristocrats who lost their titles at the end of the second world war.
If the legislation is passed Princess Aiko, Naruhito's four-year-old daughter, could become Japan's first reigning empress since the 18th century.
Hopes that Naruhito, 45, and his wife, Princess Masako, would give Japan a male heir were dashed when she gave birth to Aiko in December 2001. The prospect of the couple having a second child receded when Masako, 42, a former diplomat, became ill with depression thought to have been brought on in part by pressure to have a son.
Although Japan has had eight reigning empresses, none passed the throne on to her offspring and each reigned only temporarily until a male heir was old enough to take over.
Last year a panel of officials concluded that the government should alter the 1947 law banning women from the throne to allow Aiko to take the crown. Her children could then assure the family's survival.
A majority of Japanese back Mr Koizumi's plans, but support has declined since MPs and academics this month stepped up their campaign to preserve the male line. A poll this week showed that although 63% were in favour of the idea of a reigning empress, opposition has risen from 15% to 21% since November.
Koizumi hints at U-turn on succession
By Colin Joyce in Tokyo
Japan's prime minister signalled a possible about-turn yesterday on plans to amend the laws of succession to allow an empress to reign.
Junichiro Koizumi had said only the day before that he intended to bring a Bill before parliament in the summer.
But his commitment to the law appears to have been shaken by the announcement that Princess Kiko, the wife of Emperor Akihito's younger son, is pregnant. Momentum for reform has been gathering pace for the past five years but has been driven largely by the lack of a male heir.
Now, with Princess Kiko possibly to give birth to a boy, conservatives opposed to reform have been handed an ideal argument for postponing the measure.
Mr Koizumi has been a consistent supporter of a reigning empress. He appointed a panel that recommended last year that the best way to secure the succession was to allow the women of the imperial family to inherit the throne. However, yesterday he suggested that the Bill may have to wait.
Pregnant princess could cloud debate on Japanese succession
By Colin Joyce in Tokyo
The people of Japan were astonished to learn yesterday that Princess Kiko is expecting a baby, throwing into turmoil a campaign to allow women to ascend the Chrysanthemum throne.
The nine babies born into the imperial family in the past 40 years have each been girls, leaving the country without a male heir beyond the next generation.
Princess Kiko, 39, is the wife of 40-year-old Prince Akishino, the younger son of Emperor Akihito and second in line to the throne.
Under Japan's current laws, a son born to the couple would enter the line of succession behind his uncle, Crown Prince Naruhito, and his father.
Few Japanese considered there was any prospect of a son being born to either prince. The crown prince and his wife, 42-year-old Princess Masako, have only one daughter Princess Aiko, four, after 12 years of marriage. Princess Kiko has two daughters but the younger of them was born in 1994.
Parliament burst into applause when the news was announced. But the unexpected development will complicate a passionate debate over plans to end the ban on a reigning empress.
However, Junichiro Koizumi, the prime minister, said he would push ahead with submitting a Bill to parliament this year to pave the way for Princess Aiko to succeed.
MP's warning over 'blue-eyed foreigner' on Japanese throne
By Colin Joyce in Tokyo
A senior Japanese politician has attacked plans to allow a reigning empress in case the child of "a blue-eyed foreigner" succeeds to the ancient Chrysanthemum Throne.
The remark by an MP and former trade minister, Takeo Hiranuma, highlighted the way conservatives see the emperor as head of the Japanese race and equate national vigour with racial purity.
The government wants to change the law to allow Princess Aiko, the four-year-old granddaughter of Emperor Akihito, to become second in line to the throne.
Polls show overwhelming support for the plan. But determined opposition has emerged, centred on Prince Tomohito, the emperor's cousin and diehard conservatives in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
"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. We should never let that happen," Mr Hiranuma said in Tokyo.
Conservatives are particularly hostile to proposals to allow matrilineal succession, which they view as a breach of a 2,000-year-old tradition.
Though Japan has had eight reigning empresses, they were widows or unmarried and served as regents until the throne could revert to a son born through the male line.
Traditionalists believe that holy blood, transmitted from son to son over 125 generations of emperors, is central to the well-being of Japan.
However, all nine children born into the imperial family for 40 years have been girls. Even Japanese in favour of reform are aware that finding a suitable spouse for a future Empress Aiko will be tricky.
Japan has no titled aristocracy and the neutrality of the imperial family means it may be difficult for her to marry the son of a political or business family.
Japan princess's pregnancy renews chance for male heir