Toshifumi Kitamura / Pool via AP
Japanese Prince Akishino and his daughters, Princess Mako, left, and Princess Kako arrive at Aiiku hospital in Tokyo, on Wednesday, to see Princess Kiko and her newly-born baby boy.
msnbc.com news services
updated 9/6/2006 9:52:08 AM ET 2006-09-06T13:52:08

Japan’s Princess Kiko gave birth to a boy early Wednesday, providing the centuries-old Chrysanthemum Throne with its first male heir in more than 40 years, the palace announced.

The birth came about an hour after Kiko, 39, was reported to have undergone a Caesarean section. The boy is the third in line to the throne, after Crown Prince Naruhito and Kiko’s husband, Prince Akishino.

The arrival of a royal boy forestalled a looming succession crisis for the royal family. Japan’s 1947 succession law allows only males to ascend the throne, and prior to Wednesday Naruhito and Akishino were the only royals eligible for the crown.

The boy, the first male heir born in Japan since Akishino in 1965, was born at 8:27 a.m. and weighed 5.64 pounds, the Imperial Household Agency said. Kyodo News agency reported mother and child were in good condition.

Kiko, who already had two daughters, was hospitalized on Aug. 16 after showing symptoms of partial placenta previa, in which part of the placenta drops too low in the uterus.

The gender of the baby had been a closely guarded palace secret, though Japanese tabloids speculated the child will be a boy.

No male heir since 1965
The last potential male heir born was Akishino himself, in 1965. Emperor Akihito’s eldest son, Naruhito, has a daughter with his wife Masako, but the couple have no sons, meaning there is no one to inherit the throne after he and his brother. Kiko, likewise, had no sons.

The looming succession crunch had prompted serious discussion of changing the law to allow a female to assume the throne. The proposal had the support of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and a majority of the public.

Even before the 1947 law, reigning empresses were rare, usually serving as stand-ins for a few years until a suitable male can be installed. The last reigning empress was Gosakuramachi, who assumed the throne in 1763.

Debate over the succession law was divisive and emotional. Some conservatives proposed a revival of concubines to produce imperial heirs, and others argued that allowing a woman on the throne would destroy a precious Japanese tradition.

News of Kiko’s pregnancy — and the possibility of a male heir — in February quickly put an end to the discussions.

Spillover impact on economy
All the attention on Princess Kiko has had a spin-off effect on the economy. Shares of baby and maternity product makers shot up in February after Kiko’s pregnancy announcement, and they have climbed steadily since the palace announced the delivery would take place in early September.

Stock prices of Pigeon Corp., Japan’s largest maternity and baby products maker, have risen more than 35 percent since the beginning of the year and closed at an all-time high of $17.80 per share Monday before dipping slightly on Tuesday.

“The birth of Princess Kiko’s baby is definitely good news for our industry,” said Pigeon spokeswoman Yuko Arikawa. “We are hoping that the royal baby would encourage young couples to have their own children as well.”

The heightened baby talk comes as Japan is consumed by debate over how to remedy the country’s slumping birthrate. Japanese women now have a record-low average of 1.25 babies in their lifetime, and the population started dropping for the first time last year. Many fear the trend will lead to labor shortages, a damaged economy and failing pension and health care systems.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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