02/27/2006 at 01:00 AM EST
A princess under pressure? A dynasty on the brink of extinction? No, not the Windsors; the royals of Japan. The question facing the Japanese imperial family: Is it time to let a female ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne? The press has been having a field day reporting that Crown Princess Masako—wife of Crown Prince Naruhito—is despondent over restraints of imperial life and her inability to bear a male heir. To add to her woes was the Feb. 7 announcement that her sister-in-law Princess Kiko, 39, is pregnant. If it's a boy, he would be the first heir to the throne born since 1965. Masako's daughter Aiko, 4, doesn't count. Two years ago Masako, 42, under relentless pressure to produce a boy, withdrew from public life amid rumors of a nervous disorder. Called a "caged bird" in the media, she rarely appears in public and now is reportedly so distraught she is skipping important tea ceremonies with her mother-in-law, Empress Michiko, and Kiko. Only time will tell whether Kiko is having a boy, but now some politicians are saying it's time to change the law. Not likely, says Judy Wade, a British royals author: "A bit like our lot, they like the status quo."