TOKYO—The arrival of Japan's littlest prince Wednesday sent citizens into the streets in euphoria to celebrate the end of their 41-year wait for a male heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, the oldest monarchy in the world.
Well-wishers massed at the main gate to the Imperial Palace and waved Japanese national flags. Some shouted "Banzai!" ("Ten Thousand Years!") Onlookers clutching extra editions of newspapers gazed as ceremonial dancers paraded in parts of Tokyo.
Stores set up displays to celebrate the birth, and a think tank said the event might shore up Japan's falling marriage and birth rates and bring a small economic windfall.
Earlier in the day, Princess Kiko, daughter-in-law to Emperor Akihito, gave birth to a 5.64-pound healthy boy, the first male child born in the imperial family since 1965. The birth silenced debate over whether Japan should let females ascend to the throne and whether the patrilineal imperial line should continue after 125 unbroken generations.
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, away in northern Japan as part of public duties, sent a messenger bearing a protective sword to place on the baby's pillow during its first night in the world. The sword is to ward off evil spirits. The royal couple is scheduled to return to Tokyo on Saturday.
The boy, third in line to the throne after Crown Prince Naruhito and Prince Akishino, will not be named until next Tuesday, the seventh day after his birth.
One of those most likely to feel relief at the birth is Crown Princess Masako, 42, the Harvard- and Oxford-trained former diplomat. She and Crown Prince Naruhito are the parents of a daughter, who was born in 2001. Crown Princess Masako was under pressure to have a son, and she has suffered from depression.
Now the stress is less. The pregnancy of her sister-in-law, also the mother of girls ages 11 and 14, culminated in the 8:27 a.m. birth by Caesarean section at Tokyo's Aiiku Hospital.
"She may be rather happy to be off the hook from the mountain of pressure on her only daughter, Aiko," said Sayo Miyazaki, a 24-year-old school clerk.
In drizzly weather, loyal supporters of the imperial family visited the palace, and some waved flags in joy over Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko's son.
"I am very happy to hear the news since the unbroken paternal line of emperors will go on now," said Fusae Otake, a 42-year-old mother.
Otake lauded Princess Kiko for her "very hard" decision to bear a third child more than a decade after giving birth to two daughters. But she had little positive to say about Crown Princess Masako, reflecting a harsh public mood toward the princess despite her depression.
"I wish her to get well soon, since she has to support Crown Prince Naruhito as emperor in the future," Otake said sternly.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's government said it was considering amending the Imperial House Law to allow female offspring to undergo the rigorous imperial training to assume the throne. But the proposed changes were set aside in February after the announcement of Princess Kiko's pregnancy.
After the birth, Koizumi said the male-only monarchy still faced difficulties and hinted that Japan would have to revisit the law to permit future empresses.
"It will be difficult to maintain the imperial family system without allowing females to ascend to the throne. This is for the next prime minister to decide," said Koizumi, who's scheduled to leave office later this month.
Another well-wisher, Takeshi Nihei, 77, voiced weariness at the media coverage, saying the imperial family should recede from public view.
"Too many people say too many things on this imperial matter. During my era, people respected the royal family more," Nihei said.
In a report coinciding with the birth, the private Dai-ichi Life Research Institute said the event might lift the economy to the tune of $12.9 billion by stimulating more births in Japan and increasing related consumer spending.
The institute said it made the calculation based on the increased marriages and births following the 2001 birth of Princess Aiko.
Japan recorded its lowest birth rate in 2005, with women notching a rate of just 1.25 babies over a lifetime. A rate of 2.1 is needed to maintain the population level.
The Nikkei average hit a three-month high on Tuesday but fell 0.64 percent on Wednesday as investors grabbed profits from a major stroller maker, Combi Corp., and other baby-goods makers after a recent hot run in expectation of a bump in the birth rate.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
GRAPHICS (from MCT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20060905 JAPAN birth rate and 20060905 JAPAN ROYAL
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