Princess Kiko, the wife of Prince Akishino, the Emperor's second son, gave birth to a boy Wednesday morning, a long-awaited male heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne.
The baby, delivered by Cesarean section, is the first male born to the Imperial family in 41 years and becomes the third in line to the throne after Crown Prince Naruhito, 46, and Prince Akishino, 40.
The birth will put off the succession crisis facing the Imperial family for a while.
I wasn't going to write about this story at all because, frankly, I find the notions of 'royalty', 'aristocracy', 'divine right', 'imperial succession', etc. both morally repugnant and logically absurd. Any particular monarch might not necessarily be a bad person, but we can be pretty certain, if we go back far enough in the family line, his/her ancestors would most likely be considered homicidal maniacs in modern society. Why anyone should be proud that his/her ancestors did more killing, raping, and stealing than mine or yours is a bit beyond my understanding... Anyway, having got that out of the way, this story is not completely without interest.
Conservative elements in Japan are no doubt relieved that Princess Kiko had a boy. The current system of succession does not allow women to inherit the throne but, until yesterday, it had been 41 years since a male was born into the royal family. Last year a panel convened by Prime Minister Koizumi recommended that the laws be changed to allow women and their children to ascend to the throne. News of Princess Kiko's pregnancy put off the introduction of a bill to parliament. Conservatives argue that male-only succession, to ensure the 'purity of the male bloodline' (ie.the Y chromosome), is the throne's defining characteristic. In order to prevent a woman from becoming monarch, conservatives proposed bringing back other branches of the imperial family (which were abolished after World War II), and even went so far as suggesting a revival of the concubine system.
Most Japanese, while happy that the new baby is healthy, remain divided over whether to revise the Imperial House Law to allow females to take the Chrysanthemum Throne. Many people appear to be concerned about the effects recent events might have on Princess Masako, wife of the current royal heir, Prince Naruhito. By all accounts an intelligent and articulate woman, the Harvard-educated Masako gave up her career as a diplomat to marry Naruhito and join the royal family. The pressure on Masako to bear a son, however, pushed her into depression and provoked Naruhito to publicly defend his wife (almost unheard of in Japan). It was the birth of their daughter Aiko that initially prompted lawmakers, with a lot of public support, to begin looking into changing the rules of succession.
It's perhaps not surprising that the issue of royal succession is illustrative of one aspect of the conservative/progressive divide in Japan. One interesting point, though, does seem to be emerging. While conservatives are clearly happy about the birth of a male heir, Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko appear to be actively courting and winning favor with Japan's more conservative elements. Crown Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako, on the other hand, apparently have the sympathy of younger, more progressive-minded Japanese. Whether or not this leads to increased politicization of the throne, from within the royal family, it's really too early to say.