Big in Japan: Happy Birthday Emperor Hisahito

Last week I was moving into a new apartment here in Tokyo, which is why I completely forget to wish a big ‘Happy Birthday!’ ( ?????????????????, tanjoubi omedetou) to the future Emperor of Japan, Prince Hisahito.

By the way, before I get a lot of angry postings on this column, let’s clear up some nomenclature. Hirohito, the infamous Emperor Showa who thrust an imperialistic Japan into an expansionist campaign during World War II, is not the cute and cuddly toddler, Prince Hisahito, pictured to the right.

Truth be told however, Emperor Hirohito was the great-grandfather of Prince Hisahito, so there’s a good chance that the persimmon might not fall too far from the tree.

Needless to say, the media coverage regarding the first birthday of the prince was something akin to the Superbowl meets Wimbledon. The Imperial Household Agency released video footage of the birthday party, and every major Japanese newspaper published pictures of the boy on their front pages, somewhere between articles on the Japanese economy and the Iraq War.

According to the papers, the drooling toddler wore a white shirt and blue overalls for his meeting with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. His mother, Princess Kiko, told reporters that Hisahito was as an active baby who simply couldn’t stop walking and talking.

“His Highness Prince Hisahito is walking with support and crawling on stairs, and his activity has grown vigorous particularly in the past month,” the Princess said in a statement. “He likes picture books and turns the pages himself.”

The Imperial Household Agency also released a rare statement: ‘Prince Hisahito has been growing up in good health without getting sick. On sunny days his mother often strolls around the palace garden with him.’

For those of you not versed in the politics of the Chrysanthemum Throne, Japan’s controversial (to say the least) royal family, it is important to know that Hisahito was the first male born into the royal family for 41 years. His birth averted a succession crisis in Japan, where only men can be monarchs.

Emperor Akihito has two sons, Naruhito and Akishino. Prince Hisahito is the son of Prince Akishino, the emperor’s younger son. The little boy has two older sisters, Princess Mako and Princess Kako. The emperor’s elder son, Crown Prince Naruhito, and his wife Princess Masako have a young daughter, Princess Aiko, who is pictured below.

So, to make things simple, if Naruhito died without a male heir, Akishino would become emperor. His baby son, Hisahito, would then become next in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Here is where things get interesting.

Prior to the birth of Hisahito, Japan’s former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had been advocating constitutional reform to allow women to ascend to the throne. If passed, this legislation would have allowed Princess Aiko to become Japan’s first empress. However, although the reform was supported by the general public, Japan’s conservative politicians were up in arms.

Of course, the much-needed debate was shelved entirely when news of Princess Kiko’s pregnancy was announced.

Politics aside, Hisahito is a cute little kid, so hopefully you can all join me in wishing the pudgy little guy a very happy first birthday.

** All photos courtesy of the Associated Press (AP) **