Move is on in Japan to let new princess ascend to the throne

Associated Press

TOKYO — The birth of a daughter Saturday to Japan’s royal couple prompted an outpouring of joy, but also a little apprehension in a country where only males can assume the throne.

As the nation celebrated the first child born to Crown Princess Masako after eight years of marriage to the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Naruhito, the prime minister faced calls to abandon the controversial law forbidding women from reigning.

The new princess, born at 6 1/2pounds, won’t be named until next week. Both mother and daughter were reported in good condition at the hospital in the Imperial Palace.

"I am delighted about the safe delivery," said 41-year-old Naruhito, next in line for the Chrysanthemum Throne after his father, Emperor Akihito.

Thousands of well-wishers gathered outside the moat-ringed palace waiting to sign a congratulatory book. Another 10,000 people were expected to join in a lantern festival outside the palace gates today.

The imperial family hasn’t had a boy since Naruhito’s younger brother, Prince Akishino, was born in 1965. The lack of potential heirs has caused considerable anxiety in Japan, prompting calls for a revision of the law so that women can ascend to the throne.

The imperial household faced a far more serious succession issue in the late 1920s and early 1930s, when Empress Nagako gave birth to four girls in a row. Alarmed palace officials urged Emperor Hirohito to take a concubine, as tradition dictated, but he refused. Finally, Nagako gave birth to Akihito.

Japan’s last reigning empress was Gosakuramachi, who ascended in 1762. But a law was written after World War II to codify the recent tradition of men only.

It was part of the legal changes that also redefined the emperor as a ceremonial leader rather than a divine ruler. Polls now suggest most Japanese support a change.

Next week, the baby will have a ceremonial bath as scholars in ancient court dress pluck at strings of wooden bows to ward off evil spirits and an imperial staffer reads from an eighth-century Japanese history text.

After the bath, Akihito will name the baby and a messenger will deliver the news to the prince and princess.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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