September 5, 2006

Japan’s princess gives birth to male heir

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Princess Kiko gave birth on
Wednesday to a baby boy -- the first male heir to be born into
the ancient imperial family in more than four decades, the
Imperial Household Agency said on Wednesday.

The birth of a boy, who will be third in line after his
uncle and his father, is likely to dampen debate on letting
women inherit the throne -- an idea opposed by conservatives
eager to preserve a tradition they say stretches back more than
2,000 years.

An Imperial Household Agency official told reporters Kiko
had given birth by a Caesarean operation to the 2,558 gram boy
at 8:27 a.m. (2327 GMT).

Kyodo news agency quoted sources as saying both mother and
baby were fine.

No imperial boys had been born since Kiko's husband, 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.

Japanese emperors are no longer worshipped as gods since
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 and
the birth of a possible imperial heir had mesmerized the media.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had planned to revise the
law to give women equal rights to ascend the throne, but Kiko's
pregnancy had already put the proposal on hold.

Not all Japanese, however, were likely to be equally
gleeful about the birth of a boy, which is expected to scuttle
prospects for a reform that would have allowed Aiko to become
Japan's first reigning empress since the 18th century.

The birth is the latest chapter in a drama that began when
Masako, a Harvard-educated former diplomat, suspended public
duties more than two years ago due to a mental illness caused
by the stress of rigid royal life, including pressure to bear a

The saga has been followed by Japan's gossipy tabloid
magazines, which have written of strife between Naruhito and
Akishino over whether public duties take precedence over
personal fulfillment and compared Masako, sometimes
unfavorably, to the demure Kiko, who seems satisfied with a
role as wife and mother.

Experts agree reform of the succession law will be needed
eventually, despite the birth of the boy, since ensuring male
heirs is difficult without a royal concubine.

The practice of emperors taking concubines ended when
Emperor Akihito's late father, Hirohito, refused to take one.

Conservatives, however, would prefer to revive princely
houses abolished after World War Two to expand the pool of
possible male heirs, rather than let women reign.

"I think it solves the short-term problem but they still
have got a major issue on their hands," said Kenneth Ruoff, a
professor at Portland State University and author of "The
People's Emperor."

"They have no reserve in terms of if something should
happen to the child and down the road, they will have a crown
prince and emperor with no other princes around."

Japan has had eight reigning empresses, the last in the
18th century, but conservatives stress they were stop-gap

Share prices of baby goods makers climbed on Monday on
hopes the royal birth could help lift the nation's slumping
birth rate from its record low, but sociologists rejected
notion that women would start having more babies just because
of the royal birth.