Japan Prepares for New Royal's Arrival

Japan's Princess Kiko is scheduled to give birth by a Caesarean operation Wednesday. It's widely believed she will give the country its first imperial male heir in more than 40 years. Only males are allowed to succeed to the throne under current law.

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RENE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rene Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Princess Kiko of Japan is scheduled to give birth tomorrow; it's a cesarean operation. It is widely believed that she will give the country its first imperial male heir in more than 40 years. Before her pregnancy, Japan was on the brink of changing the country's male-only succession law to let women take the throne and to find out what's happening now, we've called reporter Lucy Craft who's in Tokyo.

Do we know this is going to be a boy?

LUCY CRAFT: Of course there's no official announcement, but the rumor mill has it, apparently, the prince let it be known to a friend that they were finally going to be having a son. So it seems pretty much to be a done deal, but we'll have to wait until tomorrow morning.

INSKEEP: Now, what does that mean for the politics in Japan? People were thinking about changing the law to let women take the throne, did everyone just drop that idea, as soon as they heard this news?

CRAFT: No, no. There was huge support for this changed law. It was 80 percent of the public supported a change to allow the crown prince's daughter to take the throne when she becomes of age - that was about 80 percent. Now, we're down to a support rating of 60 percent, but that's still two-thirds of the country is behind allowing women to assume the throne as well as men. So still very strong support there.

INSKEEP: Have people pushed that for a long time?

CRAFT: I think it's come in recent years. There's been a lot of tragedy surrounding the crowned prince's wife, the Harvard-educated diplomat Masako. She's been under psychiatric treatment for neuroses. She went from being this Harvard-educated, very cosmopolitan woman to being shut up in the palace and basically, valued only for her ability to produce a male heir, which she unable to do. And, so there's a great deal of sympathy for her and the thought was, well why not have a woman take the throne at a time when Japanese women are making advances into society.

INSKEEP: Lucy Craft, do people follow the Japanese royal family in Japan the very same way the people follow the British royal family - every move is scrutinized?

CRAFT: No, no. And that's an excellent point. I fear that because the imperial household agency is so focused on just keeping the institution frozen in amber - the way it was for thousands of years - that they risk the institution falling into further irrelevance.

INSKEEP: Does anybody talk about just getting rid of the royal family?

CRAFT: We don't hear that as openly as you would hear in England, for example, where they talk about them being tax burdens. Of course, it is mentioned. But we also have the rise of nationalism, the rise of very strong conservative movement that will probably gain more steam shortly, as Koizumi steps down and we have a new prime minister who has voiced very, very conservative views, such as women belong in the kitchen.

INSKEEP: Lucy Craft in Tokyo, thanks very much.

CRAFT: Thank you.

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