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Japan prepares for royal birth

pregnant doll
A pregnant doll that allows girls to send off a postcard for a baby and a key to deflate the tummy  

TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Japan is preparing for a royal birth that could give the world's oldest monarchy a long-awaited heir.

Due any day now is the first child of Crown Princess Masako. If the baby is a boy, he will be second in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne after his father, Crown Prince Naruhito.

Comfort is critical and a stockmarket baby boom is being eagerly anticipated.

Furniture used at Togu Palace by the crown prince and princess has been moved to a room in the hospital to help her feel at home, the Kyodo news agency said. Medical staff are already on 24-hour duty at the palace.

The stock market, battered over corporate profits and the economy, is hoping the birth will drive an emotional lift from some rare good news -- with baby-related shares expected to be eagerly sought.

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According to strict inheritance laws, only boys are entitled to ascend the throne in the world's oldest monarchy. No males have been born to the imperial family since Naruhito's younger brother, Prince Akishino, was born in 1965.

The shortage of male offspring prompted discussions earlier this year by politicians about changing the law to allow a female sovereign, as is the case in many European monarchies.

Once the birth takes place, celebrations will begin.

Some of the most intensive preparations are being made by the Japanese media, which has been surprising quiet since announcement of Masako's pregnancy in May -- a response to widespread criticism of its fevered coverage of her first pregnancy in 1999, which ended in a miscarriage.

That restraint, though, is soon set to end, Reuters news agency reports. Newspapers plan extras and floods of special articles, while television stations are gearing up for hours of non-stop coverage.

Once the baby arrives, it faces a steady parade of rituals, starting with the presentation of a ceremonial samurai sword by the emperor on the day of its birth or the day after.

A week later, the baby will be ritually bathed in a cedar tub by a courtier while auspicious texts, written in classic Chinese literary style and wishing it good health and fortune, are read aloud.

On the same day, its name will be announced. The parents do not get to name their long-awaited infant. Tradition dictates that duty is reserved for its grandfather, the emperor.


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