Japanese royal family welcomes baby boy

Japan’s Princess Kiko gave birth on Wednesday to a baby boy, the first imperial male heir to be born in more than four decades and the answer to the prayers of conservatives keen to keep women off the ancient throne. The birth will scuttle for now a plan to let women ascend the throne, an idea opposed by traditionalists eager to preserve a practice they say stretches back more than 2,000 years. That would disappoint many Japanese, most of whom favor giving women equal rights to the throne.

TV programs flashed the news that a male heir — the third in line after his uncle and father — had been born, although tabloid media had forecast weeks earlier that the baby was a boy.

Newspapers issued extra editions, eagerly snapped up on the street, to announce the arrival of the emperor’s first grandson.

Royal fans waving Japanese flags and shouting “Congratulations” greeted Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, as the beaming grandparents left a hotel in Sapporo, northern Japan, where they are on an official visit.

“It’s a refreshing feeling that reminds us of a clear autumn sky,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, a conservative expected to become Japan’s new prime minister this month, told reporters.

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