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)
Klaus unlikely to sign homosexual partnership bill
PRAGUE, Feb 7 (CTK) - President Vaclav Klaus will most probably veto a bill on registered partnership that would allow the same-sex couples to enter an official partnership union, the daily Lidove noviny writes today, referring to sources close to Klaus.
If Klaus vetoes the bill, it will probably be swept under the carpet since it will be very difficult to find 101 deputies in the 200-member Chamber of Deputies to override Klaus's veto, the paper says.
A source close to Klaus told Lidove noviny on Monday that it "was practically out of the question" for the president to sign the bill.
However, "it is also out of the question that Klaus will not express his opinion on such an important law," the same source said.
Some advocates of the law hope that Klaus will pay no attention to it and it will thus take effect without his explicit consent.
"I must say that I am amazed that the government's Legislative Council and the legislative councils of the parliament intend to present something like this to the public," Klaus said about the bill on Monday.
However, he did not specify his final stance on the legislation saying that he still has time until next Thursday.
"It would be a gross and maybe the largest Klaus's mistake that would testify to the lack of open-mindedness," Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek (senior governing Social Democrats, CSSD) told Lidove noviny yesterday, reacting to Klaus's position.
"I firmly believe that this will not happen," he said.
Klaus has repeatedly voiced reservations about the legislation giving the right to conclude official partnership unions to the people of the same sex.
Klaus presented his disagreement with the legislation last February when it was debated by the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Czech Parliament.
"I consider the marriage a traditional institution of one type. Let them arrange their relationship in any way. But I am absolutely against mixing this with family and marriage," Klaus said then.
If he signs it into law, the Czech Republic will be the first post-communist and 13th European country to embed homosexual partnership.
Supporters of the bill say the bill will make homosexual partners' life easier in contact with offices. The opponents say it threatens the maintenance of heterosexual family.
The bill defines the establishment and termination of a partnership union that will be entered in the identity card.
The bill ensures the partners' right to information on the health condition of their partners and a chance to inherit property as married couples.
The bill also counts with the obligation to pay maintenance and allows the homosexual partners to raise children, but it does not allow them to adopt them.
The Boston Globe
Japan's history lesson
February 8, 2006
JAPAN'S RIGHT-WING politicians are making a dangerous habit of offending Asian neighbors, who suffered grievously under Japanese imperialism and become understandably angry when they hear Japan's leaders extol the benefits imperial Japan bestowed upon the conquered peoples.
The new Japanese nationalists peddle myths about the benevolence of Japan's imperial past with the intent of reviving a spirit of militarism. They defend Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine where class-A war criminals are buried. They revise school textbooks to whitewash the atrocities perpetrated in occupied China and Korea by imperial Japan's forces. And they stoke conflicts with China and Korea over rights to undersea energy deposits.
Japan's hawkish foreign minister, Taro Aso, exemplified this penchant for provocation when he foolishly declared over the weekend that Taiwan owes its advanced educational level to compulsory education policies imposed on the island during the 1895-1945 period of Japanese colonization.
Rightists like Aso indulge in this kind of undiplomatic behavior to advance their own political ambitions. Just as Koizumi pretends foreigners have no cause to be upset at his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, Aso appears to assume that Japan's neighbors will not care if he insinuates that the people on Taiwan were lucky to have been ruled for a half century by a more advanced race of Japanese. But the neighbors do care.
Indeed, Aso's insensitive boast accomplished a rare feat -- uniting Taiwan and mainland China in parallel expressions of indignation. A foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing excoriated Aso for ''overtly glorifying invasion history" and for distorting a period of Japanese domination that ''made Taiwan people suffer enslavement and brought grave disaster to the Chinese nation." A vice education minister on Taiwan contended that the islanders' advanced level of education should be attributed to generous government spending on schools and the value Chinese culture places on education. Parents on Taiwan ''would sell their land so their children could go to school," the vice minister said, and so Taiwan's educational success has ''nothing to do with Japan's colonization."
There is no inevitability to revived hostility between Japan and China. But to avoid a development that could put stability at risk across Asia, Japan's right-wingers will have to change their bellicose ways and China's communist leaders will have to refrain from seizing on Japanese provocations to stir up their own people's nationalistic passions.
Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko at Akasaka Palace in Tokyo last November with their daughters, Mako, 14, left, and Kako, 11.
The New York Times
Japanese Princess Expects, and Many Hope (for a Boy)
By MARTIN FACKLER
Published: February 8, 2006
TOKYO, Feb. 7 — Japanese officials said Tuesday that Princess Kiko, the wife of Emperor Akihito's second son, Prince Akishino, is pregnant, raising hopes for a long-awaited male heir to one of the world's oldest hereditary monarchies and throwing into doubt imperial law revisions that would allow a female line to hold the throne.
The Imperial Household Agency said an ultrasound test had shown Princess Kiko to be about six weeks pregnant, though it was too early to know the child's sex. Kiko, 39, already has two daughters, Kako, 11, and Mako, 14. Crown Princess Masako, 42, the wife of Crown Prince Naruhito, also has a daughter, 4-year-old Princess Aiko.
The pregnancy prompted applause on the floor of Parliament, where a committee briefly halted debate to congratulate Princess Kiko. Emperor Akihito also said he was delighted at the news, according to Japanese news reports.
The situation of Princesses Masako and Kiko having had only girls has set off intense debate in Japan over whether to allow an empress to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne for the first time in more than two centuries, and whether to allow her children to also become monarch.
While there have been eight empresses in the current Japanese dynasty, which historians say extends back to at least the fifth century, heirs to the throne have always been children of male members of the imperial family.
Faced with the possibility of no male heirs in the emperor's immediate bloodline, a government panel has proposed that the current Imperial Household Law, written in 1947 under American supervision, be revised to allow a female to assume the throne. If the proposal passes, Princess Aiko would be first in line to succeed her father.
The proposed revision has been met with fierce opposition from conservatives, who said it would violate ancient tradition. Some have even warned that a female heir would be less careful about preventing foreign blood from tainting the imperial line, a possibility that has conservatives aghast in this still largely mono-ethnic society.
While the emperor takes a much lower profile in public affairs than emperors did in years past, when they were revered as living deities, the throne remains a potent symbol of Japanese ethnic identity.
"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," the former trade minister, Takeo Hiranuma, told supporters last week in Tokyo, according to The Associated Press. "We should never let that happen."
Most Japanese, however, do not seem to share such concerns. An opinion poll in December by Kyodo News Agency showed that more than 70 percent of respondents said they support changing the law to allow a female monarch.
The announcement of Kiko's pregnancy prompted many lawmakers to call for halting the debate on revising the succession law, at least until the unborn baby's sex is known.
Hakubun Shimomura, a member of the lower house of Parliament, told reporters, "It is better to shelve discussions over the revision for a while," according to Kyodo News.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called for continuing consideration of the revision to ensure the stability of the throne. "If we wait, it is uncertain that a boy may or may not be born," he said, according to The A.P.
Japan's Princess Kiko may finally provide male heir
By David McNeill in Tokyo
Published: 08 February 2006
Japan's Imperial Family may have been rescued from a looming succession crisis by divine intervention with the surprise announcement that Princess Kiko is pregnant with her third child.
The news that the daughter-in-law of Emperor Hirohito could be carrying the first male heir since 1965 comes amid a bitter debate about whether a woman should be allowed to sit on the Chrysanthemum Throne.
The pregnancy announcement was greeted with relief and applause in the Diet (Japanese parliament) yesterday, although the sex of the child is not yet known. The Diet was gearing up to revise the Imperial Household Law, which allows only male succession. Several prominent members of the ruling party are among 170 politicians who signed a petition opposing a new succession bill - and now are calling for it to be scrapped. "It would be rude to carry on now," said Hakubun Shimomura, one of a group of Diet members against revision. But Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said the revision would proceed. "We don't know if it is a boy or girl," he said, adding that for the sake of "stability" the country could "no longer put the issue [of succession] off".
The attempt to change the 1947 law was prompted by the failure of the emperor's son, Prince Naruhito, and his wife Princess Masako, who is suffering from depression, to produce a boy. The revision would allow their four-year-old daughter, Aiko, to eventually become Empress.
But the bill is strongly opposed by a growing number of traditional conservatives, who say it would break the bloodline of the world's oldest continuous monarchy, which claims to have begun 600 years before Christ.
Buoyed by royal pregnancy, Japan ponders gender rights
Wed Feb 8, 2006 2:19 PM IST
By Masayuki Kitano
TOKYO (Reuters) - Some Japanese call it a matter of tradition, others see it as an issue of gender equality, and still others say they couldn't care less.
But a day after news that Princess Kiko was pregnant took Japan by surprise, few seemed to have changed their minds over the hotly debated issue whether or not women should be allowed to ascend the Chrysanthemum throne.
No royal males have been born into Japan's ancient imperial family since 1965 and it is hoped Kiko's third child might be a boy. The news comes as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had pledged to present a bill to parliament this year giving women equal rights to ascend the throne to avoid a succession crisis.
"My thinking hasn't changed," said Shizuko Furukawa, a 59-year-old housewife, as she strolled just outside the imperial palace with her daughter on a chilly but sunny Wednesday morning.
Furukawa, who favours allowing a woman to inherit the throne, was a bit perplexed by the timing of Princess Kiko's pregnancy.
"Of course, this is something that occurs naturally, but why now, at a time when the issue of the imperial succession law is being raised?" said Furukawa.
Greeted by polite applause, a demurely smiling Princess Kiko, the 39-year-old wife of the emperor's second son, Akishino, spoke briefly at a TB prevention seminar on Wednesday.
Opponents of Koizumi's equal rights bill plans used news of the pregnancy to urge proponents to wait and see if the baby -- due in September or October -- was indeed a boy.
A newspaper poll released on Monday showed that voters were becoming more cautious about allowing women to inherit the imperial throne, but 63 percent still supported the idea.
One 68-year-old pensioner agreed the law should be revised, especially since there was no guarantee Kiko would have a boy.
"Unless preparations are made to allow a woman to ascend the throne, things could become chaotic," he said, as he took a walk just by the imperial palace.
"If you say a woman shouldn't be allowed, that would be sexual discrimination," he said, as small groups of tourists gathered nearby, some of them snapping pictures by a palace gate.
Others want to stick with tradition.
"If I had to choose, I favour keeping things the way they are. This partly has to do with Japanese tradition," said a 39-year-old man who works in finance.
"I think the issue of gender equality is a different issue," said the man, who was waiting near a subway station.
Some, though, don't care much either way.
"I'm not really interested," said a 24-year-old woman in central Tokyo, who said she and her friends usually gave little thought to the royals.
"I saw the news and I thought it was a happy occasion."
Photo Credit: AP
Expectant Princess Has Japan Hoping for Fairy Tale Ending
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 8, 2006; Page A11
TOKYO, Feb. 8 -- What's the only thing better than a princess? For some in Japan, the answer became as clear as a glass slipper on Tuesday -- a possible prince.
After decades of girls, girls, girls, the Imperial Household Agency stunned the nation on Tuesday by confirming rumors that 39-year-old Princess Kiko, wife of Emperor Akihito's second son, Prince Akishino, is pregnant -- reportedly by about six weeks. The news came as the Japanese government was putting the final touches on a historic bill that would allow females to ascend the 2,000-year-old Chrysanthemum Throne.
The mere possibility of a long-awaited male heir is a fairy tale come true for conservatives here who bitterly oppose female succession. In Tokyo political circles, passage of the bill to break open the world's oldest male-dominated monarchy suddenly no longer looked so likely.
If the baby is a boy, he will be the first male born into Japan's royal family since Akishino in 1965. His birth, many here say, could quash a growing movement to let 4-year-old Princess Aiko, the only child of Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Princess Masako, ascend the throne after her father as a reigning empress.
The dispute pits a powerful crop of old-boy politicians with renewed hopes for a male heir against Japanese who consider themselves more modern thinkers and who want to update imperial law to open the way for Aiko's reign.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who falls in the latter group, was set to submit the succession bill to parliament before its June recess. He told a parliamentary panel after the news broke Tuesday that he would not back down, arguing that it would be difficult to preserve a stable succession in the future if only males were allowed to reign. But on Wednesday, he hinted that he may delay the bill to discuss the issue further.
Japan has had eight reigning empresses among the 125 rulers listed in the imperial family genealogy, but historians generally see them as temporary solutions. Their children were not permitted to follow them on the throne. Instead, heirs were selected from the next-closest male relatives.
Female succession has been prohibited altogether since 1889. Now, critics argue, changing that male-only right to succession could forever taint the imperial bloodline, particularly in the modern era of globalization and feminism.
"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," Takeo Hiranuma, a top member of Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party and head of a bloc of politicians opposed to female monarchs, said last week. "We should never let that happen."
A gleeful Hiranuma added Tuesday that Kiko's pregnancy only proved the prudence of waiting patiently for a male heir to appear. "This is good news," he proclaimed to reporters in Tokyo. "We don't know if the baby will be a boy or not, so we should avoid being hasty by presenting the bill in the current parliamentary session."
Kiko already has two daughters. News that she is pregnant again created a wave of joy across Japan, with newspapers issuing extras and normally staid TV commentators struggling to contain their emotions.
Yet the debate over succession, like the emperor himself, is largely symbolic. Through much of Japanese history, emperors have been figureheads, manipulated by military rulers and courtiers. They were once considered divine, including the late Hirohito, but that status was renounced following Japan's defeat in World War II. Today, the position is a secular post with extremely limited powers -- the constitution defines the emperor as the symbol of the state and the unity of the people.
The institution was injected with a new dose of popularity in the 1990s after Princess Masako, a Harvard-educated diplomat with a penchant for softball and intellectual debate, married Naruhito and became the nation's glamorous crown princess.
Her storybook existence came to an abrupt end, however, soon after giving birth to Aiko in December 2001. The princess faced intense pressure, particularly from powerful bureaucrats at the Imperial Household Agency, to bear a son. This contributed to a battle with clinical depression. Masako has largely withdrawn from public life.
Opinion polls in Japan have shown overwhelming support for allowing Aiko to ascend the throne. If Kiko's next child turns out to be another girl, many people here say, the argument for changing the law could grow stronger.
But, said Hisayuki Miyake, a political commentator, "if the baby is a boy, it could put a brake on the whole debate of imperial law revision."
Special correspondent Sachiko Sakamaki contributed to this report.
【今週号の記事】 ニューズウィーク日本版 2006年2・15号
■ 最新科学リポート 男子の学力低下が深刻に。
The Trouble With Boys
They're kinetic, maddening and failing at school. Now educators are trying new ways to help them succeed.
By Peg Tyre
Jan. 30, 2006 issue