I feel so much for Masako after reading this article. She sounds like she has been under tremendous pressure and scrutiny, not just with having a baby but in general.
And I admire her so much more since seeing pictures of her in the period after Aiko's birth and before her bout with the shingles and withdrawal from public life, Masako always had a smile on her face and seemed to be so cheerful and happy. And meanwhile, all this time, inside she was struggling and suffering.
I know that pictures of Masako and Naruhito and Aiko visiting Masako's parents were posted here some time back, but I was wondering if anyone could tell me how far away her parents live? Might they be able to visit Masako more often and be more of a support system to her closer? (Of course they can do this from a far, too, but sometimes I think it's just nice to have someone close to you.)
She seems like a lovely (and a very intelligent) lady. Can't help thinking that she must feel very isolated by her position..
And I think you're very right about Emperess Michiko being the only one who can understand how difficult life has been for Masako. And it's very sympathetic and kind and understanding of the Emperess to pay special attention to Masako and to show a bit more concern for her.
I have not read many stories about Masako, but from the few I've read, Masako seems to have lived a Westernized life prior to marrying Naruhito. She is very well educated and very well spoken, she has worked, travelled and lived abroad and by all accounts seemed like a highly independent woman. And the Imperial family seems to be very conservative and traditional, so in many ways Masako probably had to 'curb' a lot of what she wanted to do or say.
And the pressure of producing an heir, specifically a male heir would be tremendously stressful. Before Aiko was born, she miscarried because of the constant scrutiny and stress, didn't she?
And I agree absolutely, jun5. I think Masako, while she may hold the same title as some of the other European CPs, has a much harder life.
The "caged bird" is a most eloqent way of putting Masako's situation. Very well said! :flower:
NASU, JAPAN - AUGUST 25: Princess Aiko visits a cattle run with her parents Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako August 25, 2003 in Nasu, Japan.
AWAJI ISLAND, Japan - Princess Masako plants an olive tree to commemorate the 14th national greenery protection gathering at Akashi Straits Park in Awaji, Hyogo Prefecture, on April 26.
Princess Masako in Akashi Straits Park
The most adorable ... :blush:
Polfoto 20-02-2004 Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito, left, and Crown Princess Masako, right, pose for pictures with their daughter Princess Aiko at the Togu Palace in Tokyo, Thursday, Feb. 12 2004. Crown Prince Naruhito celebrates his 44th birthday Monday, Feb. 23, 2004.
Naruhito, Masako and the adorable Aiko
JAPAN'S MASAKO A modern princess seeks harmony in a traditional world
Masako Owada was an ambitious, career-driven 29-year-old diplomat when she took on the challenge of a lifetime – becoming a crown princess in the world's oldest reigning family. More than ten years on, suffering from, as she described it "physical and mental fatigue", the princess disappeared from public view for more than a month, retreating from the spotlight – and, it seems, the Imperial Palace – to seek comfort at her parents' mountain home.
As Masako returns to life in Tokyo – although not to her official duties – hellomagazine.com takes a closer look at the princess, her life, her marriage and how she has struggled to cope with the pressures of being a crown princess.
"Although Japanese tradition dates the country's first emperor to 660 BC, written records place the first hereditary head of a unified state early in the fifth century AD. The current emperor, Akihito, who is also head priest of the country’s Shinto religion, is 125th in a line of descendants of the Japanese imperial family, most of whom held semi-divine status.
After WWII, Akihito’s father, Emperor Hirohito, renounced the god-like association of Japanese emperors, and aimed to promote a more human side to the imperial family. He made public appearances and allowed reports on his personal life to be published, something which had previously been forbidden. Hirohito became the country's first monarch to travel abroad, and broke with tradition in allowing his son to marry a commoner – today’s Empress Michiko.
Consistently behind the throne, however, protecting and upholding centuries-old traditions and rituals, has been the Imperial Household Agency, a unit responsible for every aspect of running the palace. The rigid nature of the conservative Agency, which is noted for its secrecy, has been cited in both the slow modernisation of the monarchy and the difficulties those who have married into the family have experienced. It is an assessment those at the Agency, a staid, elderly male establishment, tend to disagree with.
""Some of the media think that this is a very traditional, strange tribe who hide behind a chrysanthemum curtain just praying to God," says the emperor's grand chamberlain. "And some think it's a very modern existence. Actually, it's a combination of the two."
Signs of change do emerge – for example, Emperor Akihito broke precedent in acknowledging his recent bout with cancer, and not so long ago Empress Michiko made her first overseas solo trip in 43 years of marriage. But with the birth of the crown prince's only child, daughter Aiko – a male has not been born to the current Imperial family in 38 years – it now looks like the Imperial Palace may be facing a more dramatic change. Though eight empresses have ruled Japan in its 2,700-year history, in the late 19th century females were barred from the throne. Aiko's birth has sparked talk of overturning the law, with 90-year-old Princess Takamatsu making an unprecedented statement in support of change in 2002. "In view of Japan's long history," she said, "I do not think it is unnatural to assume a female member of the imperial family will become the 127th monarch."
A FUTURE PRINCESS
"Born in 1963, the eldest daughter of a top Japanese diplomat, as a child Masako loved sport and animals, and had considered becoming a vet. She was outspoken in class, displayed a love of learning and showed an independent streak, organising a school softball team for girls at a time when the sport was considered unfeminine.
Her strong-willed nature – pals said they seldom saw her cry – was combined with a natural knack for diplomacy. "She has the wisdom to adapt herself to any environment," a classmate would say later.
While she was a teenager, her father accepted a two-year teaching job at Harvard University in the US. As a result, Masako, who already spoke English, attended an American high school in Belmont, a Massachusetts suburb, quickly adapting to her new environment, joining the maths team and the French club. After graduating, she entered Harvard, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in economics.
"In 1986, she returned home, enrolling at the University of Tokyo to study law and prepare for the Foreign Ministry entrance exam. She passed after just one year – half the time it takes most candidates – and became one of only five per cent of those to pass the test that year.
By the time she finished her schooling, the first modern career woman to enter the imperial family was a charming, attractive and intelligent young woman who spoke no fewer than five languages – English, French, German, Russian and Japanese.
At 29, though at the time it had never crossed her mind, she was a perfect candidate for royal marriage according to Imperial Household requirements. These included that any bride-to-be should be less than 5ft 5in, under 30 and free of surgery and piercing. Any potential royal bride would also be a virgin. Friends point out that other qualities singled Masako out as a perfect candidate. "She's dignified and self-assured, and she gets along with everybody," said one of her US high school classmates. "She has all the qualities to be an empress."
"It was in the autumn of 1986 that the young diplomat, accompanied by her parents, met Crown Prince Naruhito at a palace party in honour of the Infanta Elena of Spain. Legend has it that more than three dozen potential companions for the crown prince were invited to the party, a list of their names being given to the royal heir in advance. Apparently, Masako was added at the last minute, her name handwritten by someone in the Imperial Household Agency.
The crown prince was instantly enamoured of Masako and began to pursue her. This despite objections from his advisers, who believed she was an inappropriate choice in light of a relative's involvement with a chemical company which had once caused an environmental disaster. Naruhito was undeterred, and determined to make Masako his wife.
Years later, in 2002, she would recall: "I never even in my dreams thought that one day I would enter the Imperial Family." And it seems Masako, who had just passed the Foreign Ministry exam when she crossed paths with her future husband, almost didn’t.
"While Masako seems to have delivered a coup de foudre for the crown prince, the career-driven object of his affections was less enthusiastic about striking up a romance with the future emperor. Although Naruhito pursued the young beauty assiduously, she, apparently concerned about the implications of joining the royal family, politely turned down his marriage proposal not once, but twice.
Having rejected the first proposal Masako went on with her life, embarking upon a two-year course at Balliol College, Oxford, before returning home to become a speechwriter for the Japanese prime minister. Five years were to pass before the pair met again. When, a few weeks later, her royal beau proposed for a second time, Masako’s answer was once again no.
At the end of 1992 – and after lengthy discussions with both her parents and, according to some press report, the empress – Masako finally accepted. Later, perhaps foreseeing the issues that would arise, the princess said her future husband had assured her: "You might have fears and worries about joining the Imperial Household. But I will protect you my entire life."
A NEW 'DIANA'?
Masako's shy smile, style and demeanour soon led to her being compared to Princess Diana. And like Diana, many expected her to bring a breath of fresh air to a royal family with an extremely conservative reputation.
But unlike Di, this royal bride was not a wide-eyed 19-year-old. She was a worldly young professional with an excellent education and successful career behind her. Modern Japanese women identified with her, and agreed she could revolutionise the sedate Imperial Household. "The question is one of finding a point of harmonious balance between a traditional model of a crown princess and my own personality," reflected a diplomatic Masako.
It wasn’t long, however, before it appeared that Masako would not be the harbinger of change many hoped she would be. Her previously stylish wardrobe soon gave way to ultra-tailored suits and traditional kimonos. And, as the years passed, onlookers noted that the famously resilient princess, who had coped so well in high-pressure work situations, appeared to be succumbing to the stress of not having produced a royal heir.
""We all hoped she would use her talents, like English, to do something. But she's stopped appearing in public and her face has become gloomy," a Japanese homemaker told the LA Times in 1997. "Everyone is saying… she would have been happier staying a career diplomat." A female attorney in Japan had similar views, opining in a 1993 Newsweek interview that Masako was "wasting her talent" having "surrendered" to the old-fashioned Imperial system. "She was a lively young woman at the Ministry… She has become so passive," she said.
Her infrequent public appearances earned her the nickname "the silent princess", and when she was seen at official engagements, her smile seemed strained. Though indications were that she was having some difficulties, her close friends defended her, saying she was simply finding her footing.
"She knew her freedom was going to be restricted (as a princess)," a Harvard classmate and close friend of Masako told People magazine in 1997. "But she's the same person as before. She's happily married."
"It’s all been very sudden and we're feeling rather dazed," said the bride-to-be’s mother after the engagement was announced. But Masako, whose future husband had convinced her that being a princess was just "another form of diplomacy", seemed to take the challenge in her stride, plunging into her new duties.
After accepting the proposal – only the second non-royal to marry a Japanese crown prince, as the Empress was also a commoner – Masako was immersed in rigorous preparations for her new role. In the same away she had succeeded in her professional life, she excelled at her studies, which included a crash course in Shinto rituals and traditional poetry. An apt student, the future royal finished the difficult tutorial in about 50 hours, halving the time the same task took her predecessors.
And when the wedding date – June 9, 1993 – arrived, the modern professional had transformed into a picture perfect, traditional Japanese bride.
"At dawn on the big day Masako, adhering to a series of intricate wedding rituals, bathed in purifying sacred water, before donning the first of a dozen layers which would form her silk bridal kimono. The elaborate garment weighed 14 kilograms and cost over $100,000.
And Crown Prince Naruhito was also dressed in traditional Japanese attire when he arrived at the palace's Kashikodokoro shrine where the ceremony was to take place. In line with tradition Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko did not attend, while the 800 invited guests waited outside as no invitees were allowed into the sanctuary to witness the 18-minute rite.
Later in the day, throngs of well-wishers crowded the streets of Tokyo to watch a procession led by the couple – who had swapped their traditional costume for Western ensembles – in an open carriage.
"At the time of the wedding, the Japanese public believed it wouldn’t be long before the patter of tiny feet was heard in the royal palace. But as time passed – and the crown princess entered her late 30s – the press and public, anxious for a royal pregnancy, began to wonder: Why hadn't Masako yet produced an heir?
The path to the couple's first child was a difficult one, with baby daughter Aiko arriving after eight years of attempts at starting a family, and Masako suffering a miscarriage in 1999. It was after this loss that the empress, who Masako has often said has been a source of comfort for her, came forward with her support for son and daughter-in-law.
"No-one can fully imagine from outside the feelings of the crown princess at having to endure such an experience with her first pregnancy," she said, adding later: "I wish the princess to know that I shall always be available for her if she feels the need to talk… I shall try always to be at her side."
"After such a tragic event, it was no surprise that jubilation reigned in Japan after Masako safely gave birth to a healthy Aiko two years later. However, though celebrations were widespread, the new addition to the imperial family inevitably re-opened the debate over the laws of succession, which bar females from succeeding to the Chrysanthemum Throne.
While the question continues to be the subject of debate in Japan, members of the royal family have consistently shown their willingness to promote changes in tradition. Naruhito, for example – whose own parents broke with imperial practice in insisting on raising their own children – has stated clearly that he will be heavily involved in Aiko's upbringing.
"I would like my daughter… to grow up to be a person who loves others, and will be loved by others. A person who respects others and will be respected by others," said the crown prince, adding: "In the future, I believe that we will be able to learn a great deal from our daughter."
"Over the next two years, many gestures – including Aiko's visit to her maternal grandparents' home, captured on film – indicated a new openness of approach on the part of the Japanese royal family. However, the Imperial Household's famous discretion re-emerged when Masako suddenly disappeared from public view later that year.
Although Masako was believed to be recovering, months passed with no public appearances on her part. In early April 2004 the palace confirmed Masako had decided not to attend the events she was scheduled to participate in that month, adding that it could not say when she would return to official duties. A mysterious illness, later revealed by the palace as shingles, led to the crown princess' week-long hospitalisation in December 2003. A month later, amid concern for her well being provoked by her lack of public appearances, Masako admitted in a rare statement that she was suffering from "fatigue".
"Since my marriage more than ten years ago, I have tried to do my best under huge pressure in an unfamiliar environment," she said. "But I have a feeling that the bout of shingles resulted from the accumulation of mental and physical fatigue."
"Another agency official told the press: "We cannot say for sure whether her condition is improving."
Weeks later, it was confirmed she would not be present at two international events, the May 14 wedding of Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and the May 22 nuptials of Crown Prince Felipe of Spain. And, when her sister-in-law Princess Sayako celebrated her 35th birthday in April, she admitted to being "deeply worried" about Masako –strong wording by the royal family's standards.
The crown princess spent most of April resting at her parents' home, a private mountain villa in Karuizawa, northwest of Tokyo, where she had been since early March. Her father, a judge at the international tribunal in the Hague, jetted back to Japan to be with her. And, in an unusual move – it is highly uncommon for a royal to stay in a private household – the crown prince accompanied his wife, although official duties meant he had to return to Tokyo in late March. On April 27, 2004, it was announced that Masako was back at the palace, but was still not fully recovered and would not be resuming royal duties for the time being.
"In the face of these obstacles the crown prince seems to have done his best to protect his wife – as he promised to do more than a decade ago. And he has publicly supported and defended her on several occasions.
In his traditional birthday speech this year, he candidly downplayed talk of any new additions to the family, in order to convey to the world that his wife's recovery was his pre-eminent concern. "There was much pressure to produce an heir, but happily our child was born," he said, in reference to Aiko. "But between public duties and child-rearing, and her efforts to respond to various calls from the media… it appears that she grew quite tired. As for a second child, I believe the most important thing at this point is to put priority on Masako's recovery."
In a move that seems to reaffirm that the couple have no plans to try for a son, he again put aside the possibility of expanding the family as he expressed his final birthday wish. "We understand the importance of an heir," he said, "But I hope my wife will be able to live quietly, without pressure."
"It is clear Masako has the backing of her family, with the empress apparently one of the beleaguered princess’ strongest supporters as she searches for her place in the royal household. In 2002, referring to the question of the future role of women in the imperial family, Her Imperial Highness said: "I think we should not try to force a stereotype image on any of them, as each person has her own individual character. I hope that each one keeps her own personality."
Two years ago, Masako admitted, "I am still searching for my own personality and what it should be. I will need some more time… While doing so, I would also like to think about what my own life's work should be." Perhaps her current respite from the spotlight will allow her to reflect on her past and present, and move forward positively into the future.
At the time of their union, Yoshimi Ishikawa, author of several books on Japan, remarked that perhaps, in the end, the strength of Masako and Naruhito's marriage would help them conquer all. "The prince loves her so much," he says, "that if she wants change, he may help… Maybe we can create a new era of Japanese history".
That was a really good article on her. I was surprised that it wasn't as fluffy as I thought it was going to be.
I was surfing MSN when I noticed a headline that said that the Crown Princess was feeling the stress of bearing a son. Does anyone have any infomation on this?
There is an article in People magazine.I could probably post it tomorrow.I didn't get the magazine yet.
I can´t understand why the crysantemum crown can´t have femal heires to the crown just like we have her in Europe :cry: :cry:
The news about Crown Princess Masako being stressed in producing an heir is everywhere creating headlines not just in Japan. It became more complicated should I say when she had shingles and Crown Prince Naruhito opened to the press about the strictness of the Imperial Household Agency.
I just hope that she would be feeling good soon because Japan needs her and not just their Crown Prince. And after the experience, I think it's time that CP Masako together with the whole royal family would start to create a very important change.
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