Tokyo: Japan's Princess Kiko gave birth on Wednesday to a baby boy, the first imperial male heir to be born in more than four decades and the answer to the prayers of conservatives keen to keep women off the ancient throne.
underwent a Caesarean section at a Tokyo hospital, bearing a boy who is
third in line to the throne after Crown Prince Naruhito and Kiko's
The baby's name was to be announced next Tuesday.
The arrival of a new prince - Emperor Akihito's first grandson - defused a succession crunch in the coming
generation of the royal family, which traces its roots back some 1,500 years.
The birth will scuttle for now a plan to let women ascend the throne, an idea opposed by traditionalists eager to preserve a practice they say stretches back more than 2,000 years.
That would disappoint many ordinary Japanese, who favor changing the succession to give women equal rights to the throne.
TV programmes flashed the news that a male heir - the third in line after his uncle and father -- had been born, although tabloid media had forecast weeks earlier that the baby was a boy.
Newspapers issued extra editions, eagerly snapped up on the street, to announce the arrival of the emperor's first grandson.
Royal fans waving Japanese flags and shouting "Congratulations" greeted Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, as the beaming grandparents left a hotel in Sapporo, northern Japan, where they are on an official visit.
"That's great," gushed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when he heard the news.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, a conservative expected to become Japan's new prime minister this month, welcomed the birth. "It's a refreshing feeling that reminds us of a clear autumn sky," he told reporters.
Asked about succession law reform, he added: "It is important for us to discuss it calmly, carefully and firmly."