September 5, 2006

Japan royal boy born

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

That would disappoint many ordinary Japanese, who favor
changing the succession to give women equal rights to the

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

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.


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

"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

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)