Princess Kiko of Japan has a boy

Posted in Japan | 06-Sep-06 | Author: Norimitsu Onishi| Source: International Herald Tribune

A baby holds a paper fan reading 'Celebration' as well-wishers gather in celebration of the birth of a baby boy to Japan's Princess Kiko at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo 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.