No wonder the Crown Princess gets depressed. The spectacle of the chasm between the Imperial family and the 21st century has long been enough to depress anyone. But then, just when the princess must have thought the gap might be closing a bit, given the prime minister's efforts to win the right of succession for the family's female members, along comes an unexpected pregnancy to send everything back to square one.

It is not that the princess would not wish to congratulate her brother- and sister-in-law, Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, on their joyous news. The whole nation does. It is just that she must dread having to explain to her 4-year-old daughter why people's joy seems to be so dependent on this new cousin being a boy. Whatever happened to the idea that girls are just as special, just as valued, as boys? How do you explain why some people think being a girl is such a crippling defect it automatically disqualifies you from a job that carries no power anyway? Or why it would still be empowering to women for a woman to accede to a position of such bizarre powerlessness?

Such questions and contradictions went to the heart of the Crown Princess's well-known uneasiness with the archaic system into which she had married. But now the fuss over Princess Kiko's pregnancy has thrown those contradictions into super-high relief. For a while, the world thought Japan was on the verge of letting its Imperial family edge into the modern age. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was pursuing a farsighted proposal for a legislative amendment that would permit female succession, and a majority of the public supported him.