Pregnant Princess Kiko Heads to Hospital
Wednesday, August 16, 2006; 8:11 AM
TOKYO -- Princess Kiko entered a hospital Wednesday to prepare to give birth to the first new addition to Japan's royal family in more than four years _ and possibly a badly needed heir to the ancient Chrysanthemum Throne.
The gender of the baby, whose due date is still weeks away, has not been announced. But Japan's conservative leaders are hoping for a boy and have shelved a plan that would allow the daughter of Emperor Akihito's eldest son to succeed him and become the first female to reign since the 18th century.
The 39-year-old wife of Prince Akishino _ Akihito's younger son _ is pregnant with her third child and is expected to give birth early next month by Caesarean section. Doctors have said she has symptoms of partial placenta previa, a condition in which part of the placenta drops too low in the uterus.
Officials said Kiko was in good health and the early hospitalization was not cause for concern.
"She has entered her ninth month of pregnancy, and is due to enter hospital to ward against the possibility of premature bleeding and to prepare for delivery," a senior palace official said Tuesday on condition of anonymity, citing palace protocol.
The princess smiled and bowed her head to reporters as she arrived at the hospital by car with her husband Wednesday evening.
Kiko's pregnancy has taken a huge political load off of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who has been under pressure to support legislation allowing an heir of either gender.
Under current law, only males may reign, and Japan's Imperial family _ the world's oldest hereditary monarchy _ has failed to produce a male heir to the throne since 1965. Changing the law is strongly opposed by many conservatives.
Akishino and Kiko have two daughters. Akishino's older brother, Crown Prince Naruhito, and his wife, Crown Princess Masako, have one daughter, Princess Aiko.
With public opinion polls showing support for a change that would allow 4-year-old Aiko to reign after her father, Koizumi last year gave his blessing to legislation allowing a woman to assume the throne. But Kiko's pregnancy raised hopes for a male heir and took the steam out of Koizumi's reform drive.