JAPAN'S PRINCESS Kiko gave birth on Wednesday to the royal family's first male heir in four decades, easing a succession crisis and quelling a fractious debate over whether to allow women on the throne.
Kiko, 39, underwent a Caesarean section at a Tokyo hospital, bearing a boy who is third in line to the throne after Crown Prince Naruhito and Kiko's husband, Prince Akishino, 40. The baby's name will be announced next Tuesday.
The arrival of a new prince -- Emperor Akihito's first grandson -- defused a succession crunch in the coming generation of the royal family, which traces its roots back some 1,500 years.
The closely watched birth was also likely to put the brakes on a divisive debate over whether to change Japan's 1947 imperial law to allow women to inherit the throne. Under that law, only men in an all-male line to the emperor can assume the crown.
The boy, the first royal male heir born in Japan since Akishino in 1965, was born at 8.27 a.m. and weighed 2.5 kg, the Imperial Household Agency said. Both child and mother were in good condition.
"That is great," said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when he heard the news. "Not only the members of the imperial family, but all the people of Japan must have felt happy" at the news, he said.
Doctors told a news conference that Akishino and Kiko did not know the baby's gender until birth because they had told the doctors they did not wish to know beforehand.
The birth follows a tumultuous decade for the royal family. Emperor Akihito's eldest son, Naruhito, 46, has a daughter -- Aiko, 4 -- with his wife Masako. The imperative of producing a male heir may have taken its toll on Masako, who suffered a miscarriage in 1999 before Aiko was born. She has struggled with stress-induced depression in recent years.