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The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"There is a worry that this will not be a boy"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
Japan crown princess pregnant
Crown Princess Masako and Crown Prince Naruhito
There has been endless speculation about a possible heir
Japan's Imperial Household has confirmed that Crown Princess Masako is three months pregnant.

The announcement ends intense speculation that a possible heir to the world's longest-reigning monarchy may be on the way.

Princess Masako
Married Prince Naruhito in 1993
Former career diplomat
Graduate of Harvard and Oxford
Grew up in Moscow and New York
Plays the flute
Princess Masako has been married to Crown Prince Naruhito for nearly eight years; her only other pregnancy ended in miscarriage 18 months ago.

No direct successor has been born since the crown prince's brother in 1965, and his two children are banned by law from succeeding to the throne because they are female.

The baby is due in late November or early December. A senior palace official said that the princess was in good condition, but asked the public to follow developments calmly.

The BBC's Charles Scanlon says the palace hopes to avoid the atmosphere of feverish expectation - particularly in the media - which followed confirmation of the princess's last pregnancy.

Intense coverage

Over-excited media coverage was blamed for contributing to her miscarriage in 1999, and last month, the palace called for restraint when it said she was "showing signs" of pregnancy.

Grand Master of the Japanese Crown Princes household, Kiyoshi Furukawa
Senior palace official Kiyoshi Furukawa confirmed the news
TV stations, however, broke away from normal programming to broadcast gushing portraits of the princess.

The media's handling of the pregnancy and miscarriage prompted a rare attack on the press from her husband, who called the furore "truly deplorable".

"I hope that in future such issues will be handled in a more prudent and considerate way," he said.

Succession

If the baby is a boy, he will be second in line to the throne after his father.

If the princess gives birth to a daughter, the law of sucession might be changed, paving the way for Japan to have its first female monarch since ancient times.

Reports have said Japan's governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is preparing to set up a panel to consider revising the law of succession.

New Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who appointed a record five women to his cabinet, has said he would welcome such a change.

Female emperors have been barred from the Chrysanthemum Throne since the mid-19th century, when the emperor was restored to a central role in the country's political life.

According to Japanese tradition, the current emperor, 67-year-old Akihito, is Japan's 125th imperial sovereign in an unbroken line from Emperor Jimmu, who ascended the throne in about 660BC.

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See also:

09 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan considers female succession
09 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's female emperors
31 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese princess suffers miscarriage
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