News that Princess Kiko, the 39-year-old wife of the emperor's second son, is expecting a child in the autumn may save Conservatives within Japan's hidebound imperial household from their worst fear - the prospect of women ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne.
For months Japan has witnessed a mounting debate over whether the Imperial Household Law - which allows only male heirs - should be amended. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who had pledged to get the succession law changed by the end of Parliament's current session in June, has turned more cautious. "It's desirable that the legislation be enacted when everyone can support it," he said one day after news of Princess Kiko's pregnancy caught Japan by surprise.
Caution is not Mr. Koizumi's style and with months remaining before he steps down in September he should not begin to exhibit the behavior now. Though he may be worried that pressing ahead will endanger his plans for other reforms he only need to remember his political strength-the Japanese public. The Japanese public seems broadly supportive of letting women take the throne, according to opinion polls
The same political capital--public support--that enabled him to win a stunning parliamentary election last year should be used again. It will not only assist in ensuring him in Japanese political history, but also enable Japan, a culturally cautious country, to take a bold step forward.