The morning after it broke, news that Princess Kiko is expecting a baby in September was greeted with predictably meaningless blather on the TV wide shows. Commentators made a connection between the pregnancy and that ceremony the princess and her husband, Prince Akishino, attended in September of last year where storks raised in captivity were released into the wild. Later, the couple wrote poems about storks.

Coincidence or providence? If it’s the former, then it only goes to show how little these talking heads know about advance public relations. If it’s the latter, then maybe the Emperor is still a god and we don’t know it.

As a matter of fact, the arguments for retaining the male-line succession rule have a religious ring to them, and people who speak up against it tend to attract dirty looks, as if they were uttering blasphemies. In an article that appeared in the Asahi Shimbun, a manga critic commented that the current controversy over images of Muhammad printed in European newspapers has a parallel in Japan, where cartoonists never draw the Emperor.

Princess Kiko’s pregnancy appears to be neither accidental nor immaculate. All available intelligence indicates it was carefully planned. According to an article in Aera, about a year ago the princess visited a doctor whom she asked about having “another one.” But what has mainly engaged the media’s attention is the timing. According to one obstetrician interviewed in the magazine, the first months of a pregnancy are the most crucial, and given the cautious nature of the Imperial Household Agency it normally would wait several months before allowing such information to leak.

The reason for the early confirmation is obvious. It was meant to derail the Koizumi administration’s bill to allow female succession by raising the possibility that a male heir is on the way, and it worked.

The weeklies have speculated on whether or not the succession question is being steered from within the Imperial Palace itself. In short, this speculation says that Prince Akishino has asserted his responsibility to produce a male heir since Crown Princess Masako is either unable to have a second child or disinclined to have one.

Suddenly, everything falls into place. Crown Prince Naruhito’s controversial comment two years ago that certain people were “denying” Crown Princess Masako’s “personality” obliquely referred to the pressure she was receiving to have another baby. Whatever it was she thought she was getting into when she agreed to marry the Crown Prince, it’s clear that she realized the only thing expected of her was to produce a male heir. (Interestingly, nobody wondered if the Crown Prince himself was under pressure. It takes two, you know.)

Princess Kiko, on the other hand, is all too happy and able to produce babies. In fact, the only reason she stopped after two was protocol. Prince Akishino already broke with custom by getting married and having kids before his older brother did, so Princess Kiko was restrained from having any more while the Crown Princess tried to conceive the future emperor. More than a decade on, the powers-that-be are panicking and Prince Akishino has decided to step in and save the day.

Or maybe it was someone else’s idea. Kiko has always been closer to the traditionalists’ image of what a Crown Princess should be than Masako ever was. At the very least, Princess Kiko never had any career issues to get over. She just wanted to be a wife and mother. In that context, the rumors of divorce or separate living quarters for the Crown Prince and Princess don’t seem so dire. In fact, it would make matters easier.

What these scenarios demonstrate is the difficulty of trying to maintain a strict pattern of Imperial succession in a country that pretends to be a democracy. Aera asked eight prominent people to comment on the situation in the Imperial Palace, and except for women studies Professor Yoko Tajima they tied themselves into knots trying to avoid the obvious conclusion that women who enter the Imperial family by marriage are nothing more than baby-making machines.

The postwar scheme to reinvent the Emperor as a bourgeois Japanese family man was never compatible with the male-only succession rule, which is clearly antidemocratic. People who say that denying women a shot at the throne denies the royals’ their “human rights” miss the point. Under the Constitution, the Emperor has been granted a special position, in which the rights and requirements given to normal citizens don’t apply to him and his family. The main problem, however, is that the means which past emperors used to secure male heirs — a big extended family and a harem full of concubines — would be embarrassing anachronisms if revived in the 21st century. But what are you going to do except make up silly stories about storks?

Many people see the issue as having little effect on anything, but symbols can be powerful in ways that aren’t obvious. Before Princess Kiko’s pregnancy was known, hundreds of politicians had lined up against a possible female emperor and in favor of maintaining the male line. Their reasons were more practical than they let on. Forty percent of Diet members and more than 50 percent of those who belong to the LDP are the sons and grandsons of Diet politicians, and thus beneficiaries of the male-succession mind-set that props up the emperor system. Some grandfathers, in fact, were involved in the desperate struggle at the end of World War II to make sure that the emperor system survived the surrender intact. To them, there was a lot more at stake than the national religion.