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Birthdays put the focus on an ancient monarchy seeking change

02 DECEMBER 2010

She looks like any normal, happy-go-lucky little girl. At times laughing freely, Princess Aiko of Japan indulges in boisterous games with schoolfriends, at others sitting quietly at her studies.

Yet this is the same youngster that threw the imperial household into crisis when she was born to the heir to the throne, Prince Naruhito and his wife Masako in 2001.

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No boy had been born for four decades – a real difficulty in a country where the constitution dictates that only males can accede to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

And Masako, who suffers from a nervous disorder, was not expected to have any more children after a previous miscarriage.

Nine years on the crisis has been averted with the arrival of Aiko's cousin Hisahito, the offspring of the Emperor's second son Akishino, in 2006, and the family seems rejuvenated by the easing of the pressure.

This was clearly seen with Naruhito and Masako wearing broad smiles as they arrived to greet the Emperor and Empress on the occasion of their granddaughter's birthday on December 1.

 

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Her birthday is not the only one that has put the imperial family in the spotlight again this week.

Naruhito's younger brother Akishino marked his 45th birthday on November 30, with a press conference.

In his appearance with his wife Kiko, he hinted that a monarchy steeped in thousands of years of tradition and is one of the most revered and removed from ordinary life in the world is contemplating change.

"We must always think how we should exist to respond to the demands of the times," he said.

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The prince added that he and his elder brother Crown Prince Naruhito have had discussions on the future of the family several times, and hope to have more on the subject.

These rather mundane comments amount to revolutionary utterances in the finely calibrated world of the Japanese monarchy.

Perhaps they signify a possible change in the law so that women can be included in the line of succession – heading off another crisis in the future.

Besides when princesses born into the family marry, they become commoners. This was the case with the Emperor's daughter Sayako, formerly Princess Nori, when she married a Tokyo City government employee in 2005. 

If this continues it would leave the newest arrival Hisahito as possibly the only working royal in the future generation.

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