Fans, patients, shop owners weigh in on Imperial birth

by Yumi Wijers-Hasegawa

Amid heavy security Wednesday, the media, Imperial enthusiasts and well-wishers swarmed to prestigious Aiiku Hospital in Minato Ward, Tokyo, during the wee hours to wait for Princess Kiko to give birth.

Expectant mother Asami Yamamoto, 27, said she was happy to hear that the royal baby was born in the same hospital where she is scheduled to give birth to a girl in October.

“It will be a nice memory I can tell (my child),” she said.

But while some waved Japanese flags in front of the hospital, quite a few women expressed concern for Crown Princess Masako when it was known that the newborn was a boy.

The Crown Princess, married to Crown Prince Naruhito — the older brother of Prince Akishino, Princess Kiko’s husband — is said to be suffering from an adjustment disorder brought on by her rigid life in the royal family and apparent pressure to give birth to a male heir.

Yoshimi Imai, 59, who runs an interior design firm close to the hospital, said that while the birth itself is a joyful event, she doesn’t understand the line that it’s wonderful because it’s a boy.

“Why is Japan so backward on gender equality?” she said, adding that even though she is a business owner she experiences a great deal of inconvenience because she is a woman.

Imai said it is her fervent hope that this birth will finally release the Crown Princess from pressure to produce a male heir and not work the other way around and put more pressure on her to have another baby.

“I don’t think it’s possible for Crown Princess Masako to have another baby, given her current condition,” Imai said.

Yumiko Mori, who teaches French cuisine in the neighborhood, also came to the hospital at 7:30 a.m. to wait for news of the baby’s birth.

The 39-year-old Mori said she feels for the Crown Princess, 42, because they are in the same generation.

“I believe she has reluctantly wedded in the royal family. I’m concerned that (the birth by Princess Kiko) will put her in an even more awkward position,” Mori said.

Although the royal family reportedly asked that security be kept to a minimum to avoid disturbing regular patients, the police presence both in and outside the hospital has been clearly visible since Princess Kiko was admitted Aug. 16.

Police cars constantly came and went with their red lights flashing, and several officers were assigned to the fourth floor, which Princess Kiko shares with other patients.

A 19-year-old Tsukuba University student who left Ibaraki Prefecture at 5 a.m. to come to the hospital experienced the heavy security firsthand.

The student, who asked not to be named, said he was hauled off to the nearby police box for “acting suspiciously,” after telling police he was not from the media or an “Imperial fan.”

“The police checked my belongings — especially my PET bottle — carefully. They must have thought I was a leftwing activist with a bomb,” he said.

“I am concerned about the future of the Imperial family,” he said, adding that the birth of a boy was good news. “My thoughts about the Imperial family go a little further than ‘Imperial fans’ who seem to view the family members as TV idols.”

Aiiku Hospital was opened in 1938 by a social welfare corporation funded by the Imperial family to celebrate the 1933 birth of Emperor Akihito. It handles about 1,600 deliveries annually.

While it is considered one of the best maternity hospitals in Japan, with top-level doctors and facilities and an intensive care unit for newborns, some say the way it treats mothers is a bit strict.

But considering the facilities at Aiiku, Princess Kiko will not be uncomfortable.

She has been staying in Special Room A, the most expensive and luxurious room in the 118-bed hospital.

The five types of private rooms at Aiiku range from 20,000 yen to 45,000 yen per day.

The charge for a normal delivery is 530,000 yen, excluding the fees for checkups, which range from 5,000 yen to 20,000 yen per visit and occur a dozen times before and after the delivery.

Margreet Feitsma, a 35-year-old Dutch woman who has given birth at Aiiku twice, stayed in Special Room B for her first delivery of November 2004.

Except for it being slightly smaller and less expensive at 40,000 yen a day, it has the same facilities as Special Room A with a shower, toilet, TV, phone, fridge and a convertible sofa bed where a family member can sleep.

“It was comfortable, with all the facilities I needed, like my own bathroom and separate sink,” she said. But the number of personnel who took care of her was a bit over the top, she said, with “a separate woman cleaning the left garbage bin and another for the right, one for the shower curtain, and another for the toilet.”

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