Japanese emperor celebrates heir’s birth in New Year’s poem

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TOKYO (AP) – Japanese Emperor Akihito celebrated the September birth of his grandson – the imperial family’s first male heir in four decades – in a New Year’s poem issued to the public on Monday.

Prince Hisahito’s Sept. 6, 2006, birth to Princess Kiko, the wife of the emperor’s second son Akishino, was hailed by royalists for defusing a looming succession crisis in one of the world’s oldest imperial systems, which allows only male rulers.

“Rejoicing with us / on the birth of our grandson … The voices of the people – I am happy hearing them,” read the poem written by the 73-year-old emperor.

Emperor Akihito’s sons, Akishino and Crown Prince Naruhito, had three daughters between them, but no sons until Hisahito became the first male heir born since 1965 to the imperial family.

An expert panel charged in 2005 with averting an imminent succession crisis recommended amending the law to allow women on the throne – a proposal backed enthusiastically by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who argued it would make successions more stable.

But conservatives mounted a vociferous attack on the plan, saying it would end centuries of tradition. Koizumi’s successor, Shinzo Abe, said after the child’s birth that he would not rush to take the reform forward.

Recent polls have shown the Japanese public backs the idea of a female monarch, despite Hisahito’s birth.

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