Japan learned on Tuesday that the wife of the emperor’s second son is pregnant, throwing a sudden question mark over controversial moves to end male-only succession in the world’s oldest monarchy.
No boy has been born to the imperial family since 1965, spelling crisis for an imperial line that legend holds has been uninterrupted for more than 2 600 years.
Parliament broke out in applause as a lawmaker relayed news reports that Princess Kiko (39) the wife of Prince Akishino, was expecting their third child.
The Imperial Household Agency was expected to make an official announcement late on Tuesday, but television networks broke into afternoon broadcasts to report Kiko’s pregnancy. Kyodo News said that she was due to give birth in September or October.
Grabbing an extra edition of a newspaper announcing the pregnancy, Yoshitaka Nakatani, a 69-year-old retiree who supports female succession, said Japan should now wait and watch.
”I hope she bears a baby boy,” he said. ”That way all this fuss over succession will abate.”
Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako have had one child, four-year-old Princess Aiko, in nearly 13 years of marriage.
Masako, 42, a United States-educated former career woman, is under intense pressure to bear a boy and makes few public appearances due to stress. Her plight has built public support to let her daughter sit eventually on the Chrysanthemum Throne.
”The pregnancy might allow people to calm down, without pressure or a sense of immediate urgency, and think about the system,” said Isao Tokoro, an expert on royal history and professor at the Kyoto Sangyo University.
”If it is in fact a boy, the current system would still work,” he said.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had pledged to present revisions to imperial law before Parliament by June, but conservatives have stepped up a campaign against maternal succession.
Koizumi told reporters he would wait until an official announcement of the imperial pregnancy to comment, but said his decision to submit the Bill was based on conclusions of an advisory panel.
Just as public broadcaster NHK was flashing news of the imperial pregnancy, Koizumi was in Parliament defending a decision to push ahead with the changes.
”I am not rushing the issue,” Koizumi said.
”Princess Aiko is coming to the age when she will start going to school. It would make a great difference for her if her education is given with an assumption she would not become a reigning empress or if she realises she must become empress someday,” Koizumi said.
Opinion polls show overwhelming support for letting Aiko sit on the throne, making her Japan’s first reigning empress since Go-Sakuramachi, who reigned from 1762 to 1771.
But conservatives are particularly angry that the proposal would for the first time change succession rules by putting the first child of the monarch, either an emperor or empress, first in line to the throne.
Opponents have suggested choosing a future husband for Aiko or restoring royal status to 11 families that lost their titles after World War II in a cost-cutting measure by US occupation authorities.
Takeo Hiranuma, a leading campaigner for female succession and a former economy and industry minister, said: ”Discussions should be held all the more carefully because of the news of the pregnancy.”
The succession drama and Masako’s ill health have led to unprecedented public disagreements between members of the imperial family, who were revered as divine until World War II.
Naruhito took the unprecedented step in 2004 of accusing palace minders of suppressing his wife’s personality. Akishino later took an equally unusual public swipe at his elder brother, saying he should have kept his concerns to himself. – AFP