Japanese agog as Princess prepares for birth

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The Independent Online

Crown Princess Masako of Japan was admitted to hospital yesterday for the birth of her first child, the royal heir.

Princess Masako, 37, arrived at the hospital in the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo with her husband, Crown Prince Naruhito. Crowds of reporters gathered outside, and television networks said the baby was expected in the early hours of this morning.

As Princess Masako entered the palace gate in a black limousine, she was smiling broadly and waving. She wore a dark-blue jacket with a golden broach.

The Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, said he was very happy to hear the news from the hospital.

On Thursday, the Princess went for one of her last medical checks before the birth, setting off speculation that the baby could be born in the next few days.

The child will be the first for Princess Masako and Prince Naruhito, 41, after more than eight years of marriage. As the eldest son of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, Prince Naruhito is heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Princess Masako, a former diplomat who speaks several languages and studied at Harvard University, has been under tremendous pressure to give birth to a boy and avert a crisis over the succession.

By Japanese law, only men can ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne, which is at least 1,500 years old. But a male heir has not been born to the royal household in more than three decades.

Princess Masako suffered a miscarriage two years ago that was blamed by some on a media frenzy that followed news of her first pregnancy.

Coverage has been subdued this time, but the media – and the rest of nation – are expected to explode in celebration when the baby is born.

Prince Naruhito's younger brother, Prince Akishino, has two daughters.

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