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Japanese Princess to Give Birth

November 30, 2001

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan’s Crown Princess Masako was preparing to enter a hospital on the grounds of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace on Friday and was expected to give birth to her first child, palace officials said.

Palace spokesmen confirmed that Masako, 37, was to go to the hospital, but declined to comment further. Reports carried by Kyodo news agency, the state-run NHK television network and other commercial networks said the birth was expected very soon, probably within the next day.

Palace officials had confirmed that Masako sat out a private birthday celebration for her brother-in-law earlier in the day.

According to NHK, Masako was in good condition and was quietly readying herself for delivery.

Masako went Thursday for one of her last medical check ups before the royal birth, setting off speculation in the Japanese media that the royal baby would be born soon.

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

If the baby is a boy, he would be second in line.

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

By Japanese law, only men can ascend the old 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.

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.

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

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