TOKYO—If all goes as scheduled, a baby will be born in Tokyo on Wednesday with the weight of the world's oldest hereditary institution on its little shoulders.
All of Japan is waiting to see if Princess Kiko, the 39-year-old wife of Emperor Akihito's second son, gives birth to a boy in Aiiku Hospital when she has a Caesarean section.
No males have been born into Japan's imperial family since 1965, jeopardizing the male-only imperial bloodline that stretches back more than 125 generations. A male heir would defuse a succession crisis and give Japanese royal watchers a respite.
Princess Kiko's pregnancy allowed conservatives to delay a proposal that would allow females to accede to the imperial throne. The princess was hospitalized on Aug. 15 with complications, leading to the decision to have a Caesarean. News of the delivery and the baby's gender is expected to break on Tuesday evening in the United States because of the time difference.
If the baby is a boy, he'd be third in line to the Imperial Throne, after Crown Prince Naruhito, 46, and his brother Prince Akishino, 40.
Newspapers plan to issue extra editions after Princess Kiko delivers—four-page editions if she produces a male heir and two-page editions if the baby is a girl.
Japanese magazines that specialize in peering across the moat of Tokyo's imperial palace take it for granted that a boy heir is on the way. Princess Kiko and Prince Akishino already have two girls, aged 11 and 14.
The weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun reported last week that a close friend asked Prince Akishino if the "the next baby will be a boy?" Prince Akishino smiled and clearly said, `Yes, it seems that way,''' the magazine reported, saying it agreed not to print the friend's name.
Since Prince Akishino was born in 1965, members of the imperial family have given birth to eight consecutive girls, leaving the future of the imperial system in doubt.
For centuries, Japan's emperors kept concubines, increasing their likelihood of producing male offspring. But Emperor Hirohito, the father of the current monarch, ended the system and renounced his claim to divinity after Japan's defeat in World War II. He died in 1989.
The current succession crisis began with the marriage of Emperor Akihito's oldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, to a stylish Oxford-educated diplomat, who became Crown Princess Masako. She bore a daughter, Aiko, in 2001 amid widespread disappointment over a lack of a male heir.
Following the birth, Princess Masako sank into a depressed funk due to the public pressure for a male heir. With 4-year-old Princess Aiko in tow and a psychiatrist in their retinue, Crown Princess Masako and Crown Prince Naruhito have just returned from a two-week vacation to the Netherlands, the first time that members of the imperial family have ever gone abroad to rest.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who may succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi later this month, gave little indication in remarks last Thursday whether he'd continue to push for revisions in the Imperial Household Law. He said only that he'd tackle the matter "cautiously and calmly" after seeking a public consensus.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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