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Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 08:10 GMT 09:10 UK
Ancient birth ritual for Japanese princess
Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako
The prince and princess married in traditional gowns
Crown Princess Masako has undergone an ancient Japanese ritual to pray for the safe birth of her child, a possible heir to the throne, later this year.

The five-month-pregnant princess had a long silk sash wrapped around her abdomen in a ceremony in the Togu Palace, the residence of the princess and Crown Prince Naruhito in central Tokyo.

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
A spokesman for the Imperial Household Agency said the symbolic ritual was held on the ancient Japanese calendar's "dog's day" - dogs are associated with safe birth.

The 37-year-old princess suffered a miscarriage in December 1999, blamed in part by the palace on pressure from intense media interest in the pregnancy.

Tradition

Traditionally, Japanese women wrap a sash of white cotton around themselves on the day of the dog - a Tuesday - in their fifth month of pregnancy.

Empress Michiko supplied the sash made of delicate silk, which was delivered to the princess behind closed doors by her chief lady-in-waiting.

"The prince in morning clothes ... tied the sash in a bow at the centre of his wife's front," the agency spokesman said.

Succession

If the baby, due in November or December, is a boy, he will be second in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne after his father.

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

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:

16 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan jubilant over royal pregnancy
15 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan crown princess pregnant
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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