Japan's Princess Kiko Gives Birth to Boy

The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 5, 2006; 9:52 PM

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. and weighed 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."

© 2006 The Associated Press