Sep 122006

TOKYO – Japan’s long-awaited male heir to its Chrysanthemum throne was named Hisahito – meaning “virtuous, calm and everlasting” – in an age-old imperial rite in Tokyo on Tuesday.

The 6-day-old infant, who is third in line to the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy, was given his name in an ancient ceremony at a Tokyo hospital where his mother, Princess Kiko, is recovering.

Hisahito, formed with the Chinese characters for “virtuous, calm and everlasting,” was chosen with the wish that the new prince has a long, prosperous life, an even temper and peace of mind, according to palace spokeswoman Yuka Shiina.

While Kiko and her husband Akishino looked on, a court official wrote the baby’s name on special rice paper with brush and ink and placed it along with his personal crest in a wooden box next to the new prince’s pillow.

The crest, a stylized Japanese umbrella pine, will be used to mark Hisahito’s belongings.

Keeping with custom, Hisahito’s name ends with the Chinese character “hito,” which means virtuous person, an appellation given to male royals. The current emperor is his grandfather, Akihito, whose father was Emperor Hirohito. The baby’s father, commonly known as Akishino, also was given the name Fumihito.

Celebrations over Hisahito’s birth have been especially colorful because it has forestalled a looming crisis for the imperial family. Until his birth, Emperor Akihito’s sons Akishino and Crown Prince Naruhito had three daughters between them, but no sons.

On Tuesday, billboards across Tokyo carried news flashes announcing the prince’s new name. Banners congratulating Kiko on her delivery still adorn government buildings and department stores.

Still, court watchers have warned the future of Japan’s imperial family is still shaky with only one male heir in its youngest generation. A 1947 law says only men can inherit the imperial crown.

An expert panel last year recommended changing that law to allow women on the throne – a proposal backed enthusiastically by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that would make the succession more stable.

But conservatives mounted a harsh attack on the plan, saying it would end centuries of tradition. Koizumi’s likely successor, the conservative chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, has said he will not rush to take the proposal forward.

A recent poll has shown the Japanese public continue to back the idea of a female monarch, despite Hisahito’s birth. Fifty-six percent of respondents to a poll published Monday by public broadcaster NHK said women should be allowed to inherit the imperial throne, while 33 percent were opposed.

NHK polled 1,674 Japanese by telephone on Sept. 8-10, receiving replies from 1,075. It gave no margin of error.

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