TV & Radio
Japan holds its breath ahead of royal birth
Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Tuesday September 5, 2006
Japan is gripped by expectation that the looming crisis over succession to the Chrysanthemum throne could end today if the baby to be delivered by caesarean section to Princess Kiko turns out to be a boy.
The wife of the second in line to the throne is due to give birth at a private hospital in Tokyo after doctors decided several weeks ago to plan a caesarean after spotting a minor complication.
A boy would be the first male born into the imperial family since Kiko's husband, Prince Akishino, in 1965. The dearth of male heirs in a royal lineage that some claim stretches back 2,600 years has taken Japan to the brink of a constitutional crisis. Under the 1947 succession law, only males descended from an emperor can inherit the throne.
If the tabloid media are to be believed, Kiko, who has two daughters aged 14 and 11, will give the nation what it craves, although the Imperial Household Agency and Kiko's doctors have refused to comment, claiming that even the parents do not know the baby's sex.
Newspapers were preparing to roll off special editions - the number of pages will increase if the baby is a boy - while broadcasters have already launched hours of breathless coverage. In Counting Down the Seconds, Asahi TV took viewers through the finer points of a caesarean section and explained the contents of the ancient rites that will follow the birth, including the presentation of a sword by the baby's grandfather, Emperor Akihito.
Academics, meanwhile, speculated over which combination of Chinese kanji characters Prince Akishino would select for the baby's name. Most believed the child would be given a simple name, regardless of its sex, in keeping with those given to their daughters, Mako and Kako.
Yasuo Ohara, a classics professor at Kokugakuin University in Tokyo, told Reuters: "He probably won't choose anything complicated, or that would be difficult for the public to feel familiar with."
Whatever the child's sex, many are predicting that Kiko will spark a mini-baby boom in Japan, which has seen its birthrate drop to a record low this year.
The stock market, meanwhile, has already responded to baby fever. Manufacturers of baby goods have seen their shares jump in recent days, with those in Combi, which specialises in prams, hitting an all-time high on the Tokyo stock exchange on Monday.
Kiko's pregnancy has given the country's conservatives hope that they can resolve the succession crisis - at least for the time being - without resorting to legal changes that would allow females to become sovereigns.
Crown Prince Naruhito, the heir apparent, and his wife, Princess Masako, were expected to have a son following their marriage in 1993 but have produced only a daughter, four-year-old Princess Aiko.
Masako, a former diplomat who has struggled to adapt to life in one of the world's most conservative monarchies, has been battling depression since late 2003 and is considered unlikely to have another child.
The prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, was preparing to submit a reform bill earlier this year that would have made Aiko eligible to ascend the throne but put his plans on hold after news emerged of Kiko's pregnancy. If the baby is a girl, pressure for reform is expected to return.
Japan focuses on gender of baby as princess gives birth
The Associated Press
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2006
TOKYO When Japan's Princess Kiko announced she was pregnant earlier this year, the government quickly shelved a much-debated proposal to avoid a succession crisis and allow a female to inherit the Chrysanthemum Throne.
Now Japan will find out when Kiko gives birth on Wednesday whether the throne will have its first male heir in four decades — or if the nation will have to resume the highly emotional debate over the royal family's future.
The 39-year-old princess, wife of Prince Akishino, the emperor's second-eldest son, was scheduled to undergo Caesarean section on Wednesday morning in Tokyo. The couple has two daughters but no sons.
The gender of the baby has been a closely guarded palace secret, though Japanese tabloids have speculated the child will be a boy, giving the country's male-only succession system a respite from a looming succession crunch.
"The imperial family has more than 1,000 and several hundred years of history," said Isao Tokoro, an imperial system expert at Kyoto Sangyo University. "If a boy is born ... it means a male emperor can assume the role of past emperors."
Japan's royals have a severe shortage of such candidates.
Neither Akishino nor his elder brother and first in line to the throne, Crown Prince Naruhito, have produced a boy. Naruhito and his Harvard-educated wife, Masako, have a 4-year-old daughter, Aiko.
Amid fears of succession troubles down the road, a high-profile panel last year recommended changing Japan's 1947 imperial law to allow a woman to take the throne. Currently, only men in a direct male line to the emperor can take the crown, so even the son of the emperor's daughter would not be eligible.
The revision proposal was extremely popular with the public, in part because of general adoration of Aiko and sympathy for her mother Masako, who came under intense court pressure to produce a male heir and has suffered in recent years from stress-induced depression.
Many also feel that it's time for Japan to change a law that some consider sexist.
"I'd rather it were a girl. I think the rule that only males can ascend the throne is a bit outdated," said Ichiko Nakagawa, 43, saleswoman on her way home in Tokyo on Tuesday evening. "The law should be revised whether it's a girl or a boy."
Highly vocal and well-connected conservatives, however, lobbied hard against law revision last year, despite Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's outspoken support for the reform.
Traditionalists argued that allowing women to carry the imperial line would destroy more than 1,000 years of Japanese culture, saying an emperor's Y-chromosome contained the essence of the royal family and should be preserved.
Instead of putting women on the throne, some opponents suggested reinstating the abolished prewar aristocracy to widen the pool of heirs. Others proposed bringing back the tradition of imperial concubines to breed potential emperors.
If Kiko has a boy, the child would be third in line to the throne after Naruhito and Akishino.
Conservatives were unabashed about their preference Tuesday.
"I am hoping for the birth of a boy," Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura stated to reporters Tuesday morning. "I am praying for a safe delivery."
The debate early this year became so fractious that support for revising the succession law began to wane among the conflict-averse public. When Kiko announced her pregnancy, raising the possibility that a boy could be born, Koizumi's government put the reform aside.
Many expected the birth of a boy on Wednesday to further quell talk about reform by forestalling a succession crisis for some years. The respite, however, would be temporary, since it would only be a matter of time before the family would have to produce more males.
The birth of a girl, however, was likely to renew the succession debate.
"If it's a girl, we'll need an immediate revision (of the law) or the imperial household will not be passed on," said Tokoro.
Still, it was uncertain whether Koizumi's presumed successor, conservative Shinzo Abe, would show the same enthusiasm for reform if he takes office later this month.
Some proponents of a change in the law, which could lead to the first woman on the throne since Gosakuramachi took the crown in 1763, say the debate should go ahead no matter what the gender of Kiko's baby.
"I think we will start discussing the issue again," said Eiko Shinotsuka, professor of gender studies at Ochanomizu University. "The proposal was something that was delivered by a bona fide conference that cannot be ignored."
Japan holding its breath to see if princess delivers a male heir