Prince Akishino and his wife Princess Kiko, on an outing to the cinema in Tokyo. The royal couple already have two daughters, Princess Mako, 14, and 11-year-old Princess Kako
Photo: © Getty Images
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The royals pose for their New Year photograph. Seated (from left) are Crown Princess Masako, Crown Prince Naruhito, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, and kneeling are four-year-old Princess Aiko and Princess Kako. In the back row (from left) are Princess Mako, Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko
Photo: © AFP



After years dominated by news of Crown Princess Masako's ill health and the succession issue, the Japanese royal family now has every reason to celebrate. Princess Kiko, the wife of the Emperor's younger son, Prince Akishino, is expecting her third child in the autumn.

Friends of the couple, who have two daughters - 14-year-old Princess Mako and Princess Kako, 11, expressed their surprise and delight. An old school chum of Akishino, Hiroshi Takita, said he was happy, adding that when he met the prince in December he'd been silent on the matter.

Rather more revealing was the subject of Kiko's poem at the annual imperial verse reading ceremony. "A stork takes wings, it circles in the arch of the sky," wrote the 39-year-old royal. "We look up with a big smile."

Akishino is second in line to the throne after his elder brother Crown Prince Naruhito. If the new addition to the family is a boy, he would be third in the line of succession under current legislation, which only allows for male children to accede to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

The government are currently considering changes to the law that would allow Aiko, the four-year-old daughter of Naruhito and Masako, to become the first empress since the 18th century. But the baby news lends weight to traditionalist ministers urging caution over an alteration in the rules governing the world's oldest monarchy.

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