TV & Radio
Japan Welcomes a Little Prince
Princess Kiko gives birth to the first male heir in 40 years. He is third in line to the throne.
By Bruce Wallace, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 6, 2006
TOKYO — Succession crisis postponed.
Japan's Princess Kiko gave birth today to a reportedly healthy boy, a 5-pound, 10-ounce solution to the imperial family's need for a next-generation heir to the males-only Chrysanthemum Throne.
The baby is the first boy born into the royal family in more than 40 years.
He is third in line to a throne that claims a mystical lineage of 2,600 years and a male bloodline that can be traced to the 5th century. He will be named within a week.
The birth of a boy would appear to avert a wrenching national debate between traditionalists and modernists over whether to allow women to ascend to the throne.
The 39-year-old Kiko's surprise pregnancy — she has two daughters, 14 and 11 — had stifled the discussion over the imperial family's lack of male heirs.
The baby follows his uncle, Crown Prince Naruhito, 46, and his father, Prince Akishino, 40, in the line of succession.
He was born in a Tokyo hospital by caesarean section, which had been scheduled since late August and which allowed Japanese media to stake out the hospital for wall-to-wall coverage on morning TV shows.
National newspapers, which had prepared two separate special editions, hit the "It's a Boy!" switch.
But the birth of a possible future emperor did not trigger widespread displays of euphoria, despite the media frenzy.
Polls show the royal family remains broadly, if tacitly, appreciated by the Japanese public. But emperors have not been worshiped as gods since Emperor Hirohito renounced his claim to divinity after World War II.
Emperor Akihito, 72, has no formal political influence, though the imperial institution retains symbolic power for nationalists.
That group, which includes Shinzo Abe, the man expected to become prime minister this month, blocked recommendations by a government panel this year to revise the 1947 law that prevents women from ascending to the throne.
For many in Japan, the arrival of a new member of the imperial family was more a matter of curiosity than constitutional significance. That is in part because of the personal drama unfolding in the imperial household: Crown Princess Masako, Naruhito's Harvard-educated wife, has a stress-related illness that has drastically curtailed her public appearances and reportedly raised tensions within the family.
The couple has one child, 4-year-old daughter Aiko.
The Japanese media attribute Masako's illness to pressure by traditionalists to produce a male heir.
The media have also chronicled her strained relations with her in-laws and with the Imperial Household Agency, the institution that manages the family's public affairs and that has termed Masako's illness an "adjustment disorder."
Naruhito has criticized the agency for its treatment of his wife, a rare move that sparked tensions with his brother, royal watchers say.
"At times like this we get interested in the imperial family, and we get lots of information from TV news shows and weekly magazines, whether we like it or not," said Chieko Okano, 33, a Tokyo mother expecting her second child in November.
"I feel a little sorry for the imperial family."
For centuries, the male lineage was sustained by the offspring of imperial concubines, a practice the current royal family shunned.
"We need a grand plan for the long-term future of the nation," said professor Hideo Shinozawa of Gakushuin University, who taught both princes.
"The old law was supported only by having many concubines and other branch families. I think we should allow empresses."
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
Princess Kiko of Japan has a boy
By Norimitsu Onishi The New York Times
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 2006
TOKYO Princess Kiko, the wife of the emperor's younger son, gave birth to a boy on Wednesday morning, securing the succession of Japan's imperial throne for another generation.
In an event that had been anticipated for months, the princess gave birth by Caesarean section to a boy weighing 5 pounds, 10 ounces, at 8:27 a.m., the Imperial Household Agency reported. No name was immediately announced.
The birth of a male heir will shelve for the foreseeable future a politically explosive debate over whether women should be allowed to ascend the throne. It has solved for now a succession crisis that had taken its most direct human toll on Crown Princess Masako, 42, the Harvard-educated former diplomat whose inability to bear a boy contributed to her depression and withdrawal from the public.
Under the current succession system, only men in a direct line to the emperor can inherit the throne. So Princess Kiko's child will become third in line to the throne, after Crown Prince Naruhito, 46, and the child's own father, Prince Akishino.
The crown prince and crown princess have a daughter, Aiko, 4; Prince Akishino, 40, and Princess Kiko, 39, have two daughters, Mako, 14, and Kako, 11. But none are eligible to ascend the throne.
Last year, with seemingly no resolution to the succession crisis, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi convened a panel of experts that recommended that a woman and her offspring be allowed to ascend the throne. The change would have allowed Princess Aiko, as well as her first-born, regardless of sex, to inherit the throne.
Before the bill could be introduced in Parliament, however, news of Princess Kiko's pregnancy in February led Mr. Koizumi to put the proposal on the back burner.
The proposed bill had stirred unexpectedly fierce opposition from Japan's conservatives, who argued that the male-only succession was the Chrysanthemum Throne's defining characteristic. Japan has had eight empresses in the past, but they did not have offspring who succeeded them.
Instead, the throne reverted to a male relative who was related on his father's side to a previous emperor. That, conservatives argued, had always guaranteed the purity of the male bloodline - or, in more modern terms, the male Y chromosome.
According to this logic, conservatives did not oppose changing the law to allow Princess Aiko to ascend the throne but refused to countenance a revision that would allow her offspring to do so. The Japanese public overwhelmingly supported Princess Aiko's ascension, according to polls, but grew more ambivalent about a matrilineal line.
Among possible solutions to the succession crisis, conservatives proposed that other branches of the imperial family, abolished during the post-World War II American occupation, be resurrected to find a relative of the emperor with the right Y chromosome. Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, 60, a cousin of the current emperor, argued for the revival of the concubine system, which in the past had made plenty of child-bearing women available to the emperor.
The birth may also end the psychological drama surrounding the royal family, especially Princess Masako. When she gave up a career in diplomacy to marry the crown prince in 1993, she was heralded as a modern Japanese woman who could perhaps even modernize the imperial institution. But the princess was soon confronted with the reality that she was now expected to do only one thing: bear a male heir.
When the couple finally had a child, it was a girl, Princess Aiko. The Imperial Household Agency, the powerful bureaucracy that oversees the royal family, kept up the pressure to have another child, and Princess Masako eventually slipped into a depression.
Her plight led the crown prince to hold an extraordinary news conference two years ago, in which he stated that he would not let his wife be sacrificed for the greater good of the monarchy. "There has been a move," the prince said, "to deny Masako's career and personality."
Prince Akishino, who had always lived in his older brother's shadow, criticized his brother and sister-in-law by saying that they must put their public duties above all. Around the same time, the Imperial Household Agency publicly exhorted Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko - who had last had a child a dozen years ago - to try for another baby.
Princess Kiko, the daughter of a university professor who never had a career before marrying, has become the darling of the Japanese media. By contrast, Princess Masako has increasingly become a target, routinely criticized by the conservative media for her supposed selfishness and lack of common sense.
県生活学習館の性差書籍撤去：県「撤去でなく移動した」男女参画委員らに説明 (毎日・福井版 2006/09/05)
多様な性、映画で問いかけ 京大西部講堂 １６日から３５作品 (京都新聞 2006/09/06)
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.