IMAGE: Princess Kiko arrives at hospital
Pool  /  Reuters
Japanese Princess Kiko, right, accompanied by her husband, Prince Akishino, the second son of Emperor Akihito, arrive at Tokyo's Aiiku Hospital on Wednesday.
updated 8/16/2006 6:43:12 AM ET 2006-08-16T10:43:12

Japan’s pregnant Princess Kiko will enter a hospital Wednesday to prepare for her delivery, amid expectations she will produce a long-awaited male heir to the nation’s ancient imperial throne.

The 39-year-old wife of Prince Akishino, who is the second son of Emperor Akihito, is pregnant with her third child and expected to give birth early next month by Caesarean section.

Kiko will enter hospital Wednesday afternoon to ensure a safe delivery, an Imperial Household Agency official said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.

Doctors have said Kiko has symptoms of partial placenta previa, a condition in which part of the placenta drops too low in the uterus.

The princess’s condition was stable Tuesday, according to the official.

“The princess has until now rested at home. But she has entered her ninth month of pregnancy, and is due to enter hospital to ward against the possibility of premature bleeding and to prepare for delivery,” he said.

Kiko’s pregnancy has won national attention because Japan’s Imperial family, the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy, has failed to produce a male heir to the throne since 1965. The current law allows only males to reign.

Akishino and Kiko have two daughters. Akishino’s older brother, Crown Prince Naruhito, and his wife, Masako, have one daughter.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi last year pushed for legislation that would allow a woman to take the Imperial throne as a way to resolve the succession crisis. But Kiko’s pregnancy raised hopes for a male heir and took the steam out of Koizumi’s drive.

Earlier this month, the princess prayed for a safe delivery at an Imperial ceremony, at which she donned a symbolic red-and-white silk belt presented to her by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.

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