Princess Masako at last Coming Back to her Former Self
As already reported in this blog, Crown Princess Masako of Japan made on Tuesday her first solo public appearance outside the palace walls in three years.
And the good news is that this seems to be part of a series: the Princess this year played a full part in the traditional New Year greetings at the palace in central Tokyo. Last autumn, she made her first public appearance after 5 years on an official occasion when King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain were visiting Japan. Shortly before that, she had hosted a dinner for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. And even those activities that had taken place before: enjoying lavish dinners out and attending events at her daughter Aiko’s school, for which the Princess had, at the time, been strongly criticized by some who said that, if she was well enough for pleasure, she should be also well enough for her official duties, seem now, in the looking back, to have been the first attempts of the recovering Princess to face life and reality again.
The public has already become used during the last years to seeing Princess Masako either not at all, or, on rare occasions, with a forced smile so that it seems necessary to call to memory what an active, radiant person Masako had been before her marriage and how popular she had once been with many people as Japanese Crown Princess.
Masako Owada had been, before her marriage, a brilliant career diplomat, dedicated to her work but also cheerful, communicative and warm-hearted, although her life, from her earliest childhood, had never been easy: Masako, at age two, was sent to a public kindergarten in Moscow where her father was working at the Japanese embassy. The little who had been speaking only Japanese at home was so impressed by the foreign language that she soon started talking Russian in her sleep. A bit later, Masako’s twin sisters were born. And whenever Masako’s parents had to go out in the evening (often conforming to a professional duty of Mr Owada) “big sister” Masako, hardly more than a toddler herself, was busy watching the little ones, with a skill and sense of duty that is usually not typical for this age (see a photo of the siblings in this thread).
But young Masako had a strong will of her own and would never give up: wherever she went she not only managed to get along somehow but usually acquitted herself with amazing success. After Moscow, the family moved to New York, and, after three years there, went back to Japan. When Masako was a teenager they returned to the US where Masako entered Harvard after she had finished high school. When her father became Japanese ambassador in Moscow, she staid alone by herself in the US to finish her studies. In 1985, she graduated with “magna cum laude” (which only the best 15 percent of graduates get). In spite of tempting employment offers from American leading banks and investment corporations that she received in consequence, Ms Owada took the decision to serve Japan as a diplomat. In summer 1986, after diligent and time-taking preparations, she took the entrance test for the diplomatic service. As one of only three women she successfully reached the highest level.
Then she was sent to Oxford in order to study “international relations”. When she returned with a master’s degree in 1990, she entered the second North-America department of the Foreign Office – the department with the highest prestige. And from her collegues – who were very hard-working people themselves – Masako got the nick-name: “the woman who does not need any sleep”…
So, when Ms Masako Owada became Japanese Crown Princess in 1993 she already had had many opportunities to demonstrate that she was, with never failing skill and grace, capable of adjusting to hugely different environments, so that there was reason to believe that she would be able to “do it again” in the imperial palace. And, indeed, for many years she managed to survive there without ever letting it become visible with how many difficulties she was struggling. Of course, the public could easily assume that the Princess’ childlessness did not make her life easier. (Her only child, Princess Aiko, was born, after many years of waiting, in 2001.) But what nobody saw was that Princess Masako was denied any opportunity to realize her life’s mission: to promote friendship and peace between Japan and other nations. At first, she had wanted to reach that goal by working as a diplomat, and she had only consented to marry the Crown Prince when he had explained to her that she could do the same, and in a very special way, as Japanese Crown Princess. And: that one of the two reasons for which he had chosen her (one being, of course, his passionate love) was that he had been looking for a wife with exactly the professional qualities that Masako had to offer.
But soon after their marriage the royal couple was, completely against their will, obliged to stay at home and “concentrate on the production of an heir”. And even under those very frustrating circumstances the Princess made use of her strong will in order to carry on as long as possible – until she finally broke down in December 2003 and nearly vanished from the public eye for years to come.
That she seems, at the long last, to be very close to full recovery and is to be seen in public with a warm-hearted, spontaneous smile as she showed last Tuesday is certainly owing to no small extent to the full backing and support her husband has always given her. Prince Naruhito has repeatedly asked the public to watch his wife “with warmth and take the long-term view.” and is trying to protect her from her “tendency to overwork when she is in relatively good physical condition”. He has often expressed his wish that she should “fully utilize her career” in serving the Japanese monarchy and so “reflect a new era”. Now there is finally good reason to hope that his wish will be granted.
To read about the current events of the Princess, see this thread.Filed under Japan
Tagged Crown Princess Masako of Japan.