Prince Naruhito Refuses To Comment on Internal Family Matters to the Press

  February 23, 2009 at 8:47 pm by

Prince Naruhito relaxing at home with his family

Click the image to see the photo at Mainichi Daily News

Crown Prince Naruhito, the next heir to the Chrysanthemum throne, is celebrating his 49th birthday today. On this occasion he has given a news conference last Friday in his Tokyo residence. The Crown Prince expressed his concern for his overworked fatherĀ“s burden and promised to do all he could to help alleviating it. Concerning his ailing wife, Crown Princess Masako, the Prince said that he does not expect her to hurry in expanding her official duties and that he would support her in taking careful steps so that her condition would not regress due to pushing herself too hard. When during this conference a reporter asked for his opinion on the imperial succession, the Prince stated that he would prefer not to make any comments on the issue even though he acknowledged its importance. Read an article by the Japan Times).

One has to know something about the background and the internals of the Japanese imperials in order to really be able to appreciate the Prince’s intentions and to understand why he choose to stay silent on a matter that for every royal house is usually of the utmost importance: “Who will succeed to the throne in the generation after him?”

Nearly five years ago, Prince Naruhito had publicly declared that his wife Crown Princess Masako, a former diplomat and Harvard-graduate, had “completely exhausted herself” in trying to adapt to life in the imperial family. He had accused unnamed members of the imperial household – and maybe of the imperial family – of having tried to “nullify her character and career”. By this action, he had broken every rule established by the Imperial Household Agency or inherent in Japanese culture: It is something you simply “don’t do” in Japan, to publicly discuss intense emotions of any sort, let alone something as extreme as “anguish” – especially if you’re a member of the Imperial Family.

This public declaration of the Crown Prince had been the beginning of a discussion about the internals of the imperial family in which during the following years practically the whole world took part – which from the traditionalist point of view had been most annoying and shameful. And the Prince had been fully aware of the scandal he would create. So why, knowing that, had the Prince still chosen to take this step?

The main problem had been that, without alarming the public, the Prince had no hopes of receiving any medical help for his sick wife as her illness was obviously not solely of a physical nature and had no physical reasons. In December 2003, the Princess had suffered a breakdown that had at first been diagnosed as shingles, a stress-induced illness, but what had turned out to be only precedent of a heavy depression or “adjustment disorder” as the Imperial Household Agency chooses to call it. One of the reasons for the Princess’ breakdown had obviously been the immense pressure put on her to produce a male heir, and the humiliations she had to bear as part of her life in the palace: According to palace insiders, every month since her marriage the princess had been summoned to the imperial presence. Using the politest and most formal of language, the emperor enquired as to whether she had had a period that month. Each time she had had to lower her head in shame and confess that, sadly, she had failed yet again to conceive a child…

Finally, in 2001, the Princess had born a daughter, Princess Aiko. But this had hardly improved her situation: Japanese law currently allows only males to ascend the imperial throne, and so the succession issue had not been solved by Aiko’s birth. The pressure upon the Crown Princess was hardly weakened. And when she finally broke down it was the first concern of imperial household officials to prevent these things from getting public. By his public accuse the Crown Prince succeeded in getting a medical specialist for his wife’s condition to look at her, something that the household officials had before strictly refused to allow.

But on the other hand, this news conference of the Crown Prince in May 2004 has been the beginning of a family quarrel, carried on by public statements at news conferences, in which also the Emperor, the Empress, Prince Akishino and Princess Nori did not fail to have a share. And this could hardly surprise anybody, since, as soon as the topic had first been put on the agenda by the Crown Prince, journalists always have made a point of asking every family member for their opinion of the matter at every oppportunity. So, the issue has been kept boiling for several years, and from time to time a new ingredient is added: Emperor and Empress complaining because they rarely get to see Princess Aiko, the Emperor’s illness of last year having its cause in worries about succession, which means: worries about his undutiful son who is seemingly not as concerned about having “only” a daughter as he should be, and so on. And although rumours are usually the only way to get any interesting information about the imperial family as the officially released information tends to be rather dull and meaningless this also means that rumours have gone “out of control”. Nobody knows at present if there is in fact a dissent still existing between Emperor and Crown Prince or if this is just a story that the media have made up for entertainment. And whatever comment a member of the imperial family makes concerning the issue never fails to be investigated and interpreted to the last by the curious public.

And this is only a part of the long and complicated answer to the question to why the Crown Prince at the news conference last Friday refused to make any comments on the succession issue…

See more photos of the Crown Prince and his family here. For more discussion, see this thread.

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