"Hail to the Male," Fall 2003, #34

In the fall of 1933 all of Japan anxiously awaited the "gokeiji," the auspicious event – the birth of a baby to the Emperor Hirohito and his consort Nagako. Four times previously the couple had failed to deliver an heir, three surviving daughters being their only consolation. The disappointment had been palpable. The birth of a male heir in Japan marked approval from heaven and good fortune for the country. As the physicians to the Imperial Court announced that the birth would probably occur before the new year, the pressure mounted, the people prayed, the prospective parents journeyed from shrine to shrine in hopes of pleasing the powers above. This time, however, their luck was destined to change; not because of divine intervention but something more irresistible, the advice of Margaret Sanger.

According to a Universal Service news story published in December 1933, Sanger was never consulted directly by the imperial household, but had explained to members of the Japanese parliament and to Baron Kato, husband of Baroness Shidzue Kato, Sanger’s counterpart in Japan, that a special diet was thought to increase the chances of producing a male. As the newspaper report described it: "A diet of carbohydrates for six weeks before and six weeks after conception, with lots of alkalis, no acids, no cigarettes and no alcohols, is the basis of the formula prescribed for women desiring male babies." Sanger later said the newspaper article "gave exactly the wrong thing," as a high carbohydrate diet should be followed if seeking a girl. It was called the "beehive recipe" – because it was said the queen bee would lay identical eggs, but deposit them "in cells having different food values." "I gave them all the facts at my command," Sanger later said, and the information made its way to the Emperor. Sanger shared the diet with Japanese dignitaries after they told her that "birth control will be acceptable in Japan when science can guarantee sons to Japanese mothers when they want them." Sanger credited a Viennese doctor with this particular theory. He had prescribed it for the Russian czarina prior to her giving birth to a male heir; her previous children had been girls.

On Dec. 23, 1933 Tokyo was awakened by a piercing siren. The 5,000,000 residents within earshot shot up off their sleeping mats to await another blast of noise. A second siren filled the air signifying that Empress Nagako had given birth to a Prince! The birth of Prince Akihito, destined to be Emperor, began a new era for Japan. The imperialist Japanese General Sadao Araki told friends and foe that "the foundations of our empire are now based more firmly than ever."

Was Sanger responsible for preserving the unbroken lineage of the Imperial House, the link between God and the people of Japan?

Japanese leaders explained that the momentous event was brought about because Japan grew firm, revived Samurai discipline and launched "an era of iron," prompting Heaven to send a male heir in an act of approbation.

All Sanger said was that she "really could not claim any direct influence." And she later told one of the many women who wrote to her to confirm the advice, "I do not want you to depend absolutely upon any suggested diet which might determine the sex of a child . . . do not set your heart on this being a success." But she never dismissed the notion that she may have had a part to play in one of the most important events in the modern history of Japan. ("Birth of Japan Heir Credited to Sanger Diet," Seattle Post Intelligencer, Dec. 31, 1933; "Japan Hails a Prince and a New Era," New York Times, Dec. 31, 1933; Herbert P. Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan [New York, 2000], 270-71; MS to Hazel Shaw, April 13, 1934 [MSM S8:650].)