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Saturday, 1 December, 2001, 14:45 GMT
Joy and concern for royal baby
Residents of Tokyo cheer
Residents of Tokyo celebrate the birth
Charles Scanlon

Within an hour of the announcement, special editions of the newspapers were out on the streets of Tokyo. The vendors were mobbed by excited crowds. "Masako - Girl" screamed the headline.

The joy was real enough, but there was also concern and even shock. This was not quite the news Japan had been awaiting.

No boys have been born to the imperial family since 1965 and after the next generation, the world's longest reigning dynasty runs out of males. The current law bans female succession.

Well-wishers who made their way to the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo were determined to keep up their high spirits.

"I'm so happy," said an old man visiting from the countryside, "it doesn't matter to people in Britain that they have a queen, so why should it worry us."

Succession rights

Others said the law should be changed as soon as possible to allow female succession.

Inside the walls and moats of the palace, rituals were already underway to welcome the latest addition to the family. Emperor Akihito's chamberlain delivered a ceremonial sword and a traditional skirt to the baby's pillow.

An official spokesman said members of the family were happy at the news and the safe delivery of the baby.

"If we show even a little disappointment, then it will hurt the feelings of the Crown Princess," said Akira Hashimoto, a retired journalist and old friend of the Emperor. "She made every effort to produce a baby, of whatever sex, so we have to be happy, we have to be delighted."

There is enormous personal sympathy for Princess Masako. A Harvard educated diplomat, she gave up a promising career at the Foreign Ministry to marry Crown Prince Naruhito.

Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi
Koizumi: No plans to change succession laws

After eight years of marriage, and one highly publicised miscarriage, she is finally celebrating the birth of her first child.

No-one wants to see her under renewed pressure to produce a male heir.

The Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, said there were no immediate plans to change the law, but that all options would be carefully considered.

Mr Koizumi, and other senior politicians, have made it clear in the past that they are not opposed to a change in principle. Sympathy for the Princess will fuel growing demands for the revision of a law that seems to violate the constitutional guarantee of sexual equality.

The Imperial household is seen as one of the most conservative institutions in a deeply conservative country.

The acceptance of a female monarch would be seen as a radical step that could have a profound impact on the status of women in Japanese society.

See also:

01 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
No 'immediate' change to Japan succession
30 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
The diplomatic princess
15 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan crown princess pregnant
09 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's female emperors
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