Japanese Crown Princess Masako celebrated her 42nd birthday Friday, as the government considered legal changes that could see her daughter become the country's first reigning empress in more than 200 years. Masako gave up a diplomatic career to wed Crown Prince Naruhito on June 19, 1993. However, enormous pressures to produce a male heir and adjust to palace life contributed to a stress-induced condition that caused her to withdraw from public activities in December 2003.
In recent months, the crown princess has taken tentative steps to re-enter the public eye, making private trips and attending limited official events in Tokyo. Japan's royal family has been facing its most serious succession crisis in centuries because no male has been born to the family since the 1960s.
Currently, Japanese law bans women from ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne. However, the government plans to submit a bill to Parliament in January that would allow women to assume the throne, in line with recommendations made by a blue-ribbon panel.
Passage of the law would put Naruhito's daughter, Princess Aiko, 4, next in line after her father to succeed to the throne.
Opinion polls have shown the Japanese public would be open to a reigning empress. A poll conducted by Kyodo News agency on Dec. 3-4 showed 71.9 percent of respondents supported breaking the male-line imperial tradition, saying the female child of a monarch should be allowed to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne. The idea was opposed by 16.1 percent, Kyodo said, reports the AP. I.L.