TV & Radio
Princess's plight:Masako's doctors emphasize that a change in her public duties is needed.
(IHT/Asahi: January 3,2006)
By HIROSHI MATSUBARA Staff Writer
Crown Princess Masako waves to well-wishers at the Imperial Palace on Monday during the annual New Year's greetings by the emperor, empress and other imperial family members.
This is the second in a series on issues and topics facing Japan's imperial family.
Bending her knees, Crown Princess Masako lowered herself to eye-level with the underprivileged children and smiled.
One by one, she looked them in the eye and spoke softly. Some of the children displayed a bit of nervousness, unused to such undivided attention from an adult, let alone a real live princess.
This event in November, a festival put on by children living in orphanages in the Tokyo metropolitan area, was Masako's first solo public appearance for an official duty outside her residence in two years.
Soon, the children looked as cheerful as the crown princess.
"Compared to the way she looked at the same event three years ago, she looked more relaxed and confident," said Hiroshi Ohashi, president of the Japan Welfare and Cultural Association, which organized the festival. "My impression was that Princess Aiko's healthy growth has helped her recover."
Masako also appeared in high spirits in mid-October when she and Crown Prince Naruhito welcomed Daniel Pauly, director of the Fisheries Center of the University of British Columbia, at their residence in the Akasaka Estate.
They discussed a variety of topics concerning child-rearing, said Pauly, who was in Japan to receive the International Cosmos Prize for his work on marine resources management.
These accounts offer a rare glimpse into how Masako has been faring in recent months.
Public interest in her health condition has drastically increased since December 2003, when the Imperial Household Agency said Masako would stop making public appearances because of stress and fatigue.
The agency later announced the princess was suffering from an adjustment disorder.
Speculation was rife that the princess was under too much pressure to have a baby boy. Others blamed the schedule and nature of her official duties. And Naruhito publicly cited in 2004 "developments that denied her career ... as well as her personality driven by her career."
Marking her 42nd birthday on Dec. 9, Masako emphasized in a written statement that her health has gradually improved, enabling her to start making public appearances. She also expressed gratitude to other members of the imperial family for their constant support.
After her public appearances last year, the prevailing view was that Masako was indeed recovering, although the Imperial Household Agency had provided very little official information on her condition. Doctors' surprise message
In tandem with her birthday statement, a group of her doctors issued a rare statement that surprised many imperial family watchers for its straightforward content.
The doctors said they believed that Masako's illness was triggered by her many public duties, including official trips to various parts of the country, while she was mentally and physically fatigued because of her miscarriage, the birth of Princess Aiko and the subsequent child-rearing responsibilities.
"Her condition has steadily improved. But on the other hand, her current physical condition still has its ups and downs, and because of this, physical and mental stress can easily affect her condition," the statement said. "Our group of doctors realized anew that the stress that plagued the crown princess was more than we had imagined."
The doctors suggested that arrangements be made for Masako to engage in public duties where she can take advantage of the expertise and experiences she accumulated before her marriage.
Toshiya Matsuzaki, a veteran journalist specializing in the imperial family, said: "It represents a bold message from the crown prince and princess, effectively requesting the Imperial Household Agency to respect Masako's personality and her past career experience as a diplomat to create an alternative form of duties.
"Officials of the agency must have been shocked by the statement."
Psychiatrist Rika Kayama said one of the problems is that the crown princess is a career woman who sees work as an opportunity for self-fulfillment. The princess, Kayama says, is typical of women of her generation who feel obligated to play a meaningful role that can be only played by them.
"But imperial duties are rather passive and symbolic, making it difficult for the princess to feel challenged or rewarded, which may have gradually eroded her self-esteem and identity," Kayama speculated. "While the (doctors') statement seems to hold her environment primarily responsible for her mental state, the nature of imperial duties cannot be changed, and the princess might need to rethink and address her instincts in order to overcome the situation."
Masato Kanda, a government official who went to the University of Tokyo and Oxford University with Masako, said the crown princess was not a career-crazed young diplomat, but she had a natural sense of mission to contribute to Japan's diplomacy and help this country obtain an honorable position in the international community.
One of her former schoolmates said, "She appears to have felt she was not fulfilling what she expected from herself, and thus felt stymied."
Masako's interest in international affairs does not seem to have receded.
On Oct. 24, the crown prince and princess attended a U.N. symposium on peacekeeping activities in developing nations at United Nations University in Tokyo. Although Naruhito stayed for only one hour, the princess remained to hear panel discussions that included two Japanese female workers of U.N.-related organizations involved in peace-building activities.
After the panel discussion ended, Masako walked up to the stage and struck a conversation with the female panelists.
"The two of you work very hard in tough conditions," Masako said.
Mariko Kawabata, one of the panelists who works at the U.N. World Food Program's office in Sudan, said Masako's friendly attitude and strong interest in international humanitarian activities were very encouraging.
Except for Masako's official duties, information on how she is faring has been scant.
The Imperial Household Agency has called for media restraint in their coverage of Masako.
"Crown Princess Masako feels strongly stressed whenever she goes out and becomes a target of media coverage," Hideki Hayashida, grand master of the Crown Prince's Household, said at a Dec. 7 news conference.
Yet such words have done nothing to reduce interest in Masako.
"Articles on the imperial family are widely read because such ordinary problems as child-rearing and delicate relations with in-laws that seem to plague the imperial family make readers feel relieved," said Jin Ito, editor in chief of Shukan Josei, a variety magazine for women.
"The difficult environment facing the crown princess is being viewed as a result of generational conflicts with the traditional way of life at the imperial family," he said. "Women in their 30s and 40s, who are our readership base, naturally relate to the problems facing Masako." Generation gap?
One of those readers is Miki Fuda, a 38-year-old homemaker from Hamura, western Tokyo. Fuda began closely following Masako-related coverage in the media after the crown princess began suffering from stress. She said the princess was likely under tremendous pressure to give birth to a male heir to the Chrysanthemum throne.
"When I became pregnant with my second child, there was the unspoken understanding that I must have a boy," she recalled. "When a test at the advanced stage of my pregnancy suggested that I would have another girl, my mother-in-law looked very disappointed and immediately asked if the test was really reliable.
"I was shocked by her reaction and started to feel that I had no value as a member of the family unless I give birth to a boy," she said.
"The crown princess must have been in a similar situation, but on a much larger scale. I just cannot help feeling sympathetic toward her."
But a 68-year-old woman in Yachiyo, Chiba Prefecture, who visited the Imperial Palace on Emperor Akihito's birthday on Dec. 23, was critical of the princess, even though she says she feels sympathy for Masako in her tough environment. From the perspective of a mother-in-law, the woman says, Masako appears a bit too self-oriented and assertive.
"I put up with a lot of things while living together with my parents-in-law for over 40 years, but I took care of them until they died at 90 and 98," she said. "But my son and daughter-in-law visit our place twice a year at most, although I and my husband desperately want to see our granddaughters."
She said her son and daughter-in-law never really consulted her on big decisions, such as working after giving birth.
"They may say it is a generation thing, but if anybody in a family is too self-oriented and assertive, the relationship among the entire family may go bad. I guess even the imperial family is no exception. I feel kind of relieved because it looks like even they have similar problems that we have."(IHT/Asahi: January 3,2006)
Imperial Family/ Uncharted terrain