TV & Radio
Japan royal boy born
Tue Sep 5, 2006 11:57 PM ET
By Chisa Fujioka and Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Princess Kiko gave birth on Wednesday to a baby boy, the first imperial male heir to be born in more than four decades and the answer to the prayers of conservatives keen to keep women off the ancient throne.
The birth will scuttle for now a plan to let women ascend the throne, an idea opposed by traditionalists eager to preserve a practice they say stretches back more than 2,000 years.
That would disappoint many ordinary Japanese, who favor changing the succession to give women equal rights to the throne.
TV programs flashed the news that a male heir -- the third in line after his uncle and father -- had been born, although tabloid media had forecast weeks earlier that the baby was a boy.
Newspapers issued extra editions, eagerly snapped up on the street, to announce the arrival of the first boy of the imperial family's latest generation.
Royal fans waving Japanese flags and shouting "Congratulations" greeted Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, as the beaming grandparents left a hotel in Sapporo, northern Japan, where they are on an official visit.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, a conservative expected to become Japan's new prime minister this month, welcomed the birth. "It's a refreshing feeling that reminds us of a clear autumn sky," he told reporters.
Asked about succession law reform, he added: "It is important for us to discuss it calmly, carefully and firmly."
An Imperial Household Agency official told reporters Kiko had given birth by a Caesarean operation to the 2,558 gram (5 lb 10 ounce) boy at 8:27 a.m. (2327 GMT).
He said both Kiko, 39, and the baby were doing well.
No imperial boys had been born since the baby's father, Prince Akishino, in 1965, raising the possibility of a succession crisis. Crown Prince Naruhito, 46, and Crown Princess Masako, 42 have one child, 4-year-old Princess Aiko.
Ceremonies around the birth include the laying of a tiny sword by the baby's pillow by his father to ward off demons.
SAKE TOASTS, CEREMONIAL SWORD
Japanese emperors have not been worshipped as gods since Akihito's father, Hirohito renounced his divinity after Japan's defeat in World War Two, and have no political authority.
But the monarchy remains rich with symbolism and ritual.
Near Tokyo's Gakushuin University, where Akishino and Kiko met, a dance troupe performed, carp streamers flew in honor of the infant boy, and locals toasted the baby with sake rice wine.
"It's good that a boy was born so that the royal family could keep its male lineage. I'm happy that Japan's tradition has been maintained," said Tadayuki Aman, a 77-year-old doctor.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had planned to revise the law to let women ascend the throne but Kiko's pregnancy put on hold that proposal, which would have cleared the way for Aiko to become Japan's first reigning empress since the 18th century.
Surveys have shown that most Japanese favor giving women equal rights to the throne. Reform looks all but certain to stall now, although many said the birth should not stop change.
"Other countries around the world have female monarchs. Japan should also change with the times," said Masashi Yamaguchi, a 25-year-old IT engineer.
Experts agree reform of the succession law will be needed eventually, despite the birth of the boy, since ensuring male heirs is difficult without royal concubines. The practice ended when the previous emperor, Hirohito, refused to take one.
"The whole question of revising the law still needs to be discussed, but now that a boy's been born, we have time," said Tokyo Women's University lecturer Midori Watanabe.
The birth is the latest chapter in a drama that began more than two years ago when Masako, a Harvard-educated former diplomat, developed mental illness caused by the stress of rigid royal life, including pressure to bear a son.
Some Masako fans hoped the baby's birth would ease her plight. "This might take the burden off her to have a son or to raise her daughter to be emperor," said Masae Tone, 76, a former high school English teacher.
Japan has had eight reigning empresses but conservatives stress they were stop-gap rulers.
(Additional reporting by George Nishiyama and Teruaki Ueno)
FACTBOX-Key facts about Japan's royals
Tue Sep 5, 2006 9:51pm ET
(Reuters) - Japan's Princess Kiko, wife of Emperor Akihito's second son, Akishino, gave birth on Wednesday to a boy, the imperial family's first male heir in more than 40 years.
News of her pregnancy had already stalled government plans to enact a bill that would give females equal rights to inherit the throne.
Below are key facts about the imperial family.
* Traditionalists believe Japan's imperial institution is the world's oldest hereditary monarchy. Eighth-century chronicles give the reign of the first emperor Jimmu from 660 B.C to 585 B.C., but there is doubt as to whether he existed.
* For most of the imperial institution's history, the emperor lacked direct political power and was primarily a symbolic and religious figure. Under the Meiji constitution, promulgated in 1889, the emperor became a constitutional monarch as well as a divine sovereign and focus of loyalty for his subjects.
* Emperor Hirohito, the father of the current Emperor Akihito, renounced his divine status after Japan's defeat in World War Two. Under the current Japanese constitution, drafted by U.S. occupation forces, the emperor became the "symbol of the state and the unity of the people".
* Traditionally, only males descended through the paternal line could ascend the throne and while there have been eight exceptions when empresses reigned, none passed on the throne to a child who was not descended from the male line. That tradition was ensconced in a 1947 succession law.
* Before Wednesday, no males had been born into the imperial family since 1965, when the emperor's second son, Akishino, was born. Crown Prince Naruhito, 46, and Crown Princess Masako, 42, have one daughter, 4-year-old Aiko. Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko have two daughters.
* Under the present imperial succession law, the boy born to Princess Kiko is third in line to the throne. If the law were revised to allow women and their children to ascend the throne, Aiko would become second in line.
* Concerned about a possible succession crisis, a panel of experts recommended last November that the law be amended to allow women and their children to inherit the throne, and that precedence be given to the first child, regardless of gender.
Japan relieved, happy at birth of royal baby boy
Tue Sep 5, 2006 11:46 PM ET
TOKYO (Reuters) - People in Japan expressed relief and happiness on Wednesday that the birth of a baby boy to Princess Kiko had gone well.
The birth of the first male heir in the imperial family in more than four decades takes pressure off Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako to have a boy. Their 4-year-old daughter Princess Aiko is not allowed to become sovereign under current law which limits the succession to males.
The baby prince becomes third in line to the throne after his uncle, the crown prince, and his father Prince Akishino.
Following are reactions from officials and members of the public:
MASAE TONE, 76, FORMER HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH TEACHER:
"I am just happy that the baby was born safely, not just because the baby was a boy.
"But I hope Crown Princess Masako will recover from illness soon. This might take the burden off her to have a son or to raise her daughter to be sovereign."
CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY SHINZO ABE:
"I am very glad that the prince was born," said Abe, the frontrunner to replace Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when he steps down this month.
"I truly feel relieved and happy to receive a report that both the princess and the prince are fine.
"It's a refreshing feeling that reminds us of a clear autumn sky."
Asked about the law restricting succession to males, Abe said: "Because the discussion on the Imperial Household Law involves an important issue of the stable succession to the throne, we must have careful and calm discussions."
MASASHI YAMAGUCHI, 25, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ENGINEER:
"It's very good news but they should not stop the country from revising the succession law. Other countries around the world have female monarchs. Japan should also change with the times."
EMPEROR AKIHITO AND EMPRESS MICHIKO:
"After we received word that the baby was safely born and that both the mother and the child were healthy, we were relieved. We want to tell them of our pleasure to see this day."
YASUHIRO NAKASONE, 88, FORMER PRIME MINISTER:
"I am truly overcome with happiness. All of the people are happy and relieved. This will resolve the problem of changing the succession law."
RITSUKO KONO, 55, DANCING TROUPE MEMBER:
"Personally I didn't think it matters in this day and age if the baby was a boy or a girl but it is, after all, a long respected tradition and I now think it was good that it was a boy and I rejoice from the bottom of my heart."
TOMIHIRO SHINJO, 78, PENSIONER
"Even the older generation thinks that the succession law should be revised. Japan is becoming a society of gender equality so as long as it's the emperor's child there should be no problem."
FUJIO MITARAI, CHAIRMAN, JAPAN BUSINESS FEDERATION:
"I have a fresh feeling of love and respect for this country's history and tradition. I pray from my heart for the prince's healthy growth and brilliant future."
TADAYUKI AMAN, 77, DOCTOR:
"It's good that a boy was born so that the royal family could keep its male lineage. I'm happy that Japan's tradition has been maintained."
MASAHIRO AOYAMA, 28, UNIVERSITY STUDENT:
"I thought it would have been better to have a girl because there would be less friction, it would just be settled on Aiko."
HIDEKI ISHIZUKA, 36, FLOWER SHOP WORKER:
"It's happy news. Its resolved the country's succession problem.
TOKYO TAXI DRIVER, NO NAME GIVEN
"I don't really care ... after all, the emperor eats off our tax money."
(Sources: Reuters interviews, Reuters TV, statements, Japanese media)
Profiles of key Japan royal family members
Tue Sep 5, 2006 8:34 PM ET
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Princess Kiko gave birth to a baby boy on Wednesday, the first male heir to be born into the imperial family in more than four decades.
Below are profiles of key members of the imperial family.
Akihito, 72, is a quiet reformer who has worked to bring the imperial family closer to the people, helping to create an image of a "middle-class monarchy" that has shielded the family from the criticism faced by flashier royals abroad.
His 1959 marriage to a commoner was widely hailed as a symbol of a new, democratic Japan and he encouraged his three children to live more like ordinary Japanese.
Since ascending the throne in 1989, Akihito has also reached out to Asian nations that suffered during World War Two, fought by Japanese soldiers in the name of his father Hirohito.
Michiko, 71, was the eldest daughter of a wealthy flour company executive who met Akihito, then crown prince, over a game of tennis at the upmarket resort of Karuizawa, near Tokyo.
"Michie", as she was known to an adoring public at the time of her engagement, won popular acclaim by raising her children herself and even making them packed lunches to take to school.
Pressure on her by conservative courtiers to conform are believed to have driven her to the brink of a nervous breakdown early in her marriage.
CROWN PRINCE NARUHITO
Naruhito, 46, may be best-known for his persistent courtship of Crown Princess Masako and his strong defense of her after she developed a mental illness due to the stresses of royal life.
In 1986, he was smitten with Masako when he met her at a concert, but struggled to overcome opposition from courtiers and Masako's own reluctance. He finally won her over by promising to protect her "with all his might" from the strains of royal life.
In 2004, his blunt public comments that there had been "moves to negate" his wife's career and personality set off a furor.
He and Masako have one daughter, 4-year-old Aiko.
CROWN PRINCESS MASAKO
A career diplomat before her marriage, the 42-year-old Masako sought to use her professional skills as a sort of royal envoy, an ambition reportedly blocked by conservative palace officials.
Brought up largely overseas, the Harvard-educated Masako has suffered from the strains of life in the palace, ranging from pressure to bear a male heir to microscopic media attention to her activities.
She has largely shunned royal duties for more than two years because of her mental illness, attributed by many to pressure to bear a male heir.
Akishino, 40, is said to have been a bit unconventional in his youth.
He broke precedent in 1990 by marrying Kiko Kawashima, his college sweetheart, before his elder brother got married. Media reports at the time said he threatened to leave the imperial family if consent was not given for the match.
More recently, though, he has stressed royal commitment to duty in contrast to Masako's search for self-fulfillment.
Kiko, 39, has been notable during her 16 years in the royal family for her demure demeanor and is often seen smiling primly with her family or engaged in public duties with her husband.
Tabloids have said that Kiko, daughter of an economics professor, hoped to marry a prince from an early age. She married Akishino shortly after graduating from university.
Kiko, who has two daughters -- Mako, 14, and Kako, 11 -- is said to be close to Empress Michiko and to visit the palace often, while Masako is more distant.
Princess Kiko of Japan has a boy