In Japan, the Royal Family finally has the heir they and the conservatives in Japan have pined for a long time:
Japan's Princess Kiko gave birth Wednesday to a male heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, ending a potential crisis of succession in the world's oldest continuous monarchy and likely forestalling a heated debate over whether female royals should be granted the right to serve as reigning empresses.
A wave of elation at the birth of a prince -- the first in Japan since 1965, when the baby's father, Prince Akishino, was born -- swept over much of the country, lifting what conservatives had seen as a dark shadow over the 2,000-year-old monarchy, in which only males may ascend the throne.
Lack of such an heir had embroiled the imperial court in a series of palace intrigues and family spats largely centering on the pressures brought to bear on 42-year-old Crown Princess Masako, wife of Crown Prince Naruhito, to produce a prince.
But it was not to be Masako -- the former diplomat whose 4-year-old daughter, Princess Aiko, had become the cause celebre of reformists seeking an end to the male-only policy -- who would give Japan its prince. Instead, Kiko, 39, the highly traditional wife of Emperor Akihito's second son, Akishino, delivered the 5-pound 10-ounce prince at 8:27 a.m. after being checked in to Tokyo's elite Aiiku Hospital on Aug. 16 to ensure a safe birth.
Doctors performed a Caesarean section -- the first ever on a member of the imperial family -- because of complications caused by a low-forming placenta. The Imperial Household Agency, the secretive courtiers who control virtually all aspects of court life, confirmed to reporters in Tokyo that both mother and child were "healthy."
The prince now becomes the third in line to the throne, after Naruhito and the newborn's father. Although die-hard reformists insisted that a debate on female succession should still take place, analysts generally agreed that the prince's birth would significantly delay a meaningful discussion for years, perhaps even decades.
When I was a child I used to read a lot of older books. This made me quite aware that sons had been better than daughters for a long time, and that giving birth to sons had been a major requirement for women, never mind that women don't determine the sex of the child. But I still got this odd little feeling of...pain... while reading yet another story where the plot was about the much-desired heir. It took a lot of rationalization to ignore that feeling of being unwanted just because of my sex.
Nowadays I know that feelings comparable to fuzzy spots in a picture are my inner alarm mechanism for finding subtle injustices. That they appear as fuzzy spots or as an unpleasant feeling in my stomach just shows that I react to them emotionally before I've figured out what it exactly is that upset me.
Thus, the reason why I write about the possible future emperor of Japan is not the importance of his birth but the symbolic significance of the event, the reminder that women have never been valued as highly as men have been, that daughters have not been welcomed as openly as sons have been, that indeed they have often been viewed as a burden, something that must be brought up and dowried for the benefit of someone else.
All this may now be changing, in some parts of the world at least. Or so some of us hope. But sometimes I wonder if the change has really been as big as some surveys indicate. It could be that we in the West just know what surveys want us to say.
Added later: I've been listening to the BBC World News' coverage of this. A fascinating section contained opinions from the Japanese street on the issue. Four men and one woman spoke... Now, this is another one of those fuzzy spots in the photo.