Japanese ponder empress rules
TOKYO, Japan -- A top Japanese official has voiced support for changing the law to allow females to inherit the throne of the world's oldest monarchy, two days after the birth of a new princess to the Imperial household.
But Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, the government's top spokesman and the minister of gender equality, told Reuters news agency Monday that any change could take decades.
Crown Princess Masako, a Harvard-educated former diplomat who turns 38 this week, gave birth to a baby girl Saturday after more than eight years of marriage to Crown Prince Naruhito, heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne.
No boys have been born into the imperial family since Naruhito's brother, Prince Akishino, was born 36 years ago, storing up a potential succession crisis.
Japan has had several reigning female monarchs -- and its last one was the 18th century Empress Gosakuramachi.
But the succession law drafted after World War II -- part of legal changes redefining the emperor as a ceremonial leader -- imposed the men-only rule.
Thousands offer congratulations
Even as some Japanese ponder such changes, congratulations kept pouring in for the country's newest royal infant.
Palace grounds were open to well-wishers for the second straight day on Monday, with nearly 27,000 lining up to sign their names in special books of celebration before noon, Kyodo news agency reported.
Around 62,000 Japanese left congratulatory messages on Sunday, some 46,000 in Tokyo alone, while hundreds more flocked to the Internet home page of the Imperial Household Agency, which looks after the royal family's affairs.
The mood in the Tokyo stock market was less joyful, with stocks defying predictions of a post-birth jump to fall more than three percent by early afternoon.
Even baby-related stocks, which had been rising in recent months on expectations the royal new arrival could trigger more births, slipped as investors quickly moved to take profits.
Despite the intense interest, it remains unclear when the public will get its first glimpse of the little princess.
Photographic access to the imperial family is strictly controlled and limited mainly to pictures issued on birthdays and at New Year's.
The nation has usually been introduced to new royals when the baby and its mother leave hospital, with photographers often kept at a distance.
"Nothing has been decided yet, but most likely the first glimpse of the baby will indeed be when the Crown Princess leaves the hospital," an official at the Imperial Household Agency told Reuters news agency.
How the baby is introduced could hint at changes in the royal family as Naruhito and Masako come into their own as parents.
When the Crown Prince was born in 1960, Empress Michiko, the first commoner to marry into the royal household, broke precedent by taking the baby from a nursemaid to hold as she left hospital.
She also opened the window of the car in which she was riding to allow photographers a clearer view -- a move greeted warmly by the public, but criticized by palace traditionalists.
Some distance is inevitable, given that Japan tends to be quite protective of newborns, whether royal or not.
Most mothers remain in hospital for at least a week even after a routine natural birth.
Japanese media said Monday that Masako is likely to remain in hospital for a week to two weeks.
There may, however, be a glimpse of the baby when it is named on Friday in a day expected to be filled with elaborate ritual.
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