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Japan's Newborn Prince Already Faces Pressure to Produce Heir
By John Brinsley
Sept. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The newest heir to the world's oldest monarchy is less than a day old and already has a significant duty to perform: produce a prince of his own.
Japan's Princess Kiko, wife of the second son of Emperor Akihito, today gave birth to the first male born to the imperial family in almost 41 years. Females cannot succeed to the throne, so the boy becomes third in line after his uncle Crown Prince Naruhito, 46, and his father Prince Akishino, 40.
The decades of waiting for a new male heir prompted a proposal backed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to change the 1947 Imperial Household Law and allow women to ascend the throne. That was shelved after Kiko's pregnancy was announced, making the newest member of the family indispensable to the bloodline.
``If he doesn't produce an heir it's back to square one,'' said Ken Ruoff, author of `The People's Emperor: Democracy and the Japanese Monarchy, 1945-1995.' ``The pressure is just enormous. Something has to be done because the law is untenable.''
Japan has been ruled by Empresses before. Six women have sat on the throne in a monarchy whose recorded history goes back to the sixth century. The last empress reigned from 1762 to 1771.
Nine girls have been born in the household since Akishino's birth in November 1965. He and Kiko, 39, have two daughters. Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Masako, 42, have a four-year-old daughter, Aiko. The possibility that she might be the last child of her generation in the imperial family prompted Koizumi to convene a panel to examine ways to change the rules for succession.
The 10-member panel last November recommended revising the law to determine succession by order of birth regardless of sex, opening the possibility that Aiko would ascend to the throne after her father. The advisory board also proposed that women born into the imperial family retain their status after marriage outside the family.
Koizumi's support for revising the law met with opposition inside and outside his Liberal Democratic Party. Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the government's top spokesman and the leading candidate to succeed Koizumi when he steps down this month, declined to endorse the proposed bill. More than 170 legislators signed a petition opposing changing the law.
Former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma said at a rally in February 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 emperor,'' according to the Associated Press. ``We should never let that happen.''
The government pulled the proposal in February.
``There is strong opposition to the revision and imperial issues are so sensitive here,'' said Hiroshi Takahashi, author of two books on the imperial system and professor at Shizuoka Welfare University near Tokyo, who favors amending the law. ``The talk only started on Koizumi's initiative. It's hard to talk about the boy's future yet.''
A separate proposal by a group of scholars to ensure the survival of the throne by restoring some former aristocratic families stripped of their status after World War II was endorsed by Prince Tomohito, a cousin of the emperor.
Writing in a private newsletter last year, Tomohito, who is fifth in line to the throne and has two unmarried daughters, suggested reviving the practice of using concubines to produce male heirs.
``The pool of families to produce an heir isn't wide,'' said Ruoff, who is also a professor of history at Portland State University. At the same time, ``advocating bringing former royals back in is a dangerous path. It costs money, and people could start wondering what they are doing paying for all this.''
Unlike in the U.K., Japan's royal family owns almost no property and has little independent wealth. The household costs about 27.3 billion yen ($236 million) a year in taxpayer funds, according to ``The Imperial Family's Purse,'' by Yohei Mori, a former palace reporter.
Public Favors Empress
Eighty-six percent of the public support revising the law to allow women emperors, according to a February 2005 poll by the Asahi newspaper. The paper surveyed 1,837 people nationwide, it didn't provide a margin of error.
Abe, the likely next prime minister, is unlikely to try and revise the law, according to political analysts like Minoru Morita, at Morita Research in Tokyo. That makes it all the more likely that the future of imperial tradition rests on one baby's shoulders.
``The succession law must be changed,'' said Akira Asada, a professor at Kyoto University. ``Even with a boy, the Imperial family remains vulnerable.''
To contact the reporter on this story: John Brinsley in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Last Updated: September 5, 2006 20:31 EDT
Japan's Princess Kiko gives birth to boy, defuses succession dilemma
The Associated Press
Published: September 5, 2006
TOKYO Japan's Princess Kiko gave birth to a boy early Wednesday, providing the centuries-old Chrysanthemum Throne with its first male heir in more than 40 years and defusing a looming succession crisis.
The birth came minutes after Kiko, 39, underwent a Caesarean section. The boy is the third in line to the throne, after Crown Prince Naruhito and Kiko's husband, Prince Akishino. No name was immediately announced
The arrival of a royal boy forestalled an eventual succession crunch for the royal family, which traces its roots back some 1,500 years. The child is Emperor Akihito's first grandson.
The birth was also likely to quell efforts to change Japan's male-only imperial law to allow women to ascend the throne. Several women have reigned over the years, the last being Gosakuramachi, who took the crown in 1763.
The boy, the first male heir born in Japan since Akishino in 1965, was born at 8:27 a.m. (2327 GMT Tuesday) and weighed 2,558 grams (5.64 pounds), the Imperial Household Agency said. Both child and mother were in good condition.
The birth took place under intense public attention. Kiko, who already had two daughters, was hospitalized on Aug. 16 after showing symptoms of partial placenta previa, in which part of the placenta drops too low in the uterus.
The gender of the baby had been a closely guarded palace secret, though Japanese tabloids had speculated the child would be a boy — the wish of many traditionalists who sought to preserve the male-only imperial line.
"I'm relieved a boy was born," said Toshihiro Sasaki, 29, systems engineer in Tokyo. "The male heir imperial system has continued for about 1,500 years, I think that tradition should be protected."
The birth follows a tumultuous decade for Japan's royal family, which is still highly respected by the public and is largely shielded from view by the secretive Imperial Household Agency.
Emperor Akihito's eldest son, Naruhito, has a daughter — Aiko, 4 — with his wife Masako, but the couple have no sons. Masako, who suffered a miscarriage in 1999 before Aiko was born, has struggled with stress-induced depression amid harsh pressure to produce a male heir.
The possibility there would be no male in the next generation had prompted serious discussion of changing a 1947 imperial law to allow a female to assume the throne, as recommended by a high-level panel late last year.
The proposal had the support of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and a majority of the public, in part because of general adulation of Aiko and sympathy for her mother, Masako.
Even before the 1947 law, reigning empresses were rare, usually serving as stand-ins for a few years until a suitable male can be installed. The last reigning empress was Gosakuramachi, who assumed the throne in 1763.
Debate over the succession law, however, was divisive and emotional. Some conservatives proposed a revival of concubines to produce imperial heirs, and others argued that allowing a woman on the throne would destroy a precious Japanese tradition.
News of Kiko's pregnancy — and the possibility of a male heir — in February quickly put an end to the discussions, and it was likely there would be no rush to return the debate following Wednesday's birth of a male heir.
Some Japanese, while cheering the successful royal birth, argued that the reform debate should continue. Some consider the male-only succession law a sexist relic of a bygone era.
"There is no need to stick to a male heir. Regardless of gender, whoever is next in line should take the throne," said Mai Yanagiga, a 20-year-old woman. "I think it's fine if Princess Aiko becomes the next empress."
A look at issues surrounding Japan's imperial succession
The Associated Press
Published: September 5, 2006
TOKYO A look at issues surrounding the birth of the first male heir to the Japanese royal family in more than 40 years on Wednesday:
THE BABY: The boy was born 8:27 a.m. (2327 GMT Tuesday) and weighed 2,558 grams (5.64 pounds). No name for the child was immediately released. The boy is third in line to the throne, after Crown Prince Naruhito and the boy's father, Prince Akishino.
WHO IS THE MOTHER: Princess Kiko, 39, is the wife of Akishino, Emperor Akihito's second-eldest son. The couple also has two daughters.
WHAT'S AT STAKE: A male heir to the throne hasn't been born since Akishino in 1965, and many conservative Japanese were hoping Kiko would give birth to a potential emperor.
SUCCESSION DEBATE: Japan's 1947 succession law allows only men to ascend the throne. The government considered a law to allow women on the throne, but the proposal was shelved in February when Kiko announced her pregnancy.
OTHER ROYALS: Crown Prince Naruhito, Akishino's older brother and first in line to the throne, and Crown Princess Masako have a daughter, Aiko, 4, but no sons.
FEMALE EMPERORS: Several women have ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne, which dates back at least some 1,500 years. The last was Gosakuramachi in 1763.