Princess Masako is an intelligent young woman with an impressive resume. She speaks six languages: English, Russian, French, Japanese, Spanish and German. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, studied at Balliol College, Oxford and received a law degree from Tokyo University, Japan’s No. 1 university. Her thesis at Harvard was entitled "External Adjustments to Import Price Shocks: Oil in Japanese Trade." One of her professors at Harvard told the New Yorker, Masako "was a quiet, unusually intelligent young woman and a very hard worker, unassuming and a bit shy, thoroughly assimilated into the Harvard environment of the day."
Masako was named Masako Owada before she was married. She is the daughter of a career diplomat and former ambassador to the United Nations. Her grandfather was the president of a chemical company that poisoned hundreds of people by dumping toxic mercury into Minamata Bay in Kyushu. Her ancestors were samurai. Other members of her family include prominent professors, scholars and headmasters.
After completing her studies, Masako worked for the Japanese Foreign Ministry, performing such duties as interpreting for U.S. Secretary of States James A. Baker III and putting together position papers on controversial foreign trade issues such as the sale of semi-conductors between the United States and Japan.
Masako loves sports, music and the outdoors. A natural athlete, she skies, enjoys hiking, plays tennis and once tried out for an all-girl wrestling team under the name Nancy. At Oxford, she was the coxain on the all-male, rowing eights.
Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on Princess Masako Wikipedia ; Hello Magazine hellomagazine.com ; Masako Book benhills.com/books ; Blog Report rightpundits.com ; Wikipedia article on Princess Aiko Wikipedia
Crown Prince Naruhito Woos Princess Masako
Prince Naruhito met Masako Owada, when she was 22, in October 1986 at an afternoon tea in honor of Princess Elena of Spain. It is said he immediately took a fancy to her. Recalling the meeting he later said, "She is so pleasant, she makes me unaware of the passing of time."
Prince Naruhito spent six years trying to convince Masako to marry him. The process began with a discreet meetings and an introduction to the Emperor and Empress, who were "favorably impressed." The meetings between the prince and Masako were always in the company of chaperons.
The prince's first proposals and later proposals were politely turned down for more than five years. Finally in December, 1992 Masako accepted. In a phone call before the acceptance, the Empress reportedly promised Masako there would be no mother-in-law problems. If Masako had turned down the offer of marriage, it was rumored, she and her family would have been ostracized.
Crown Prince Naruhito Marries Princess Masako
On June 9, 1993, Prince Naruhito married Masako. She is an inch taller than her husband.
The wedding was less of a media event than the wedding of Akihito and Michiko in 1959 but still quite a sensation, helping to renew public and media interest in the royal family. During the Shinto wedding ceremony, Princess Masako wore a waxed wig and 12 layers and 30-pounds of garments, including two ceremonial kimonos (one over the other) similar to ones worn by women in the 10th century by members of the Heian dynasty.
For their honeymoon, Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako made a dutiful visit to the Imperial shrine at Ise. Before the wedding Masako reportedly received 62 hours of private tutorials on matters such as the correct way to walk and the proper angle for an Imperial bow.
Princess Masako as Princess
In her debut as Princess, Masako sat between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin at a palace banquet for the leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations. She spoke Russian with Yeltsin and English with Clinton and no doubt probably translated for them. She also small talked in French with Françious Mitterrand.
Many people have commented what a tragedy it was for her to get married and sacrifice her career as a diplomat. People hoped that she would be a Japanese blend of Hillary Clinton and Princess Diana. Many were disappointed. Rather than challenge the Imperial status quo she dutifully played her role and disappeared into the “gilded cage,” rarely speaking in public or making public appearances.
Unlike some members of the Imperial family in the past, she kept in touch with her old friends and they came over tea and meals at the palace residence. Masako reportedly spent much of her time writing waka, traditional Japanese poetry that "members of the royal family are expected to master."
Crown Prince, Princess Masako and Married Life
The marriage between Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako appears to be a happy one. In July 1994, the couple moved into the new Crown Prince's residence in the Akasaka Palace compound in Tokyo. They raised two Akitas---Pippi and Mari.
The crown prince and princess were photographed hiking and skiing in the Japanese Alps. They toured the Middle East in November 1994 and again in January 1995 and made a favorable impression. In 1999 the attended the wedding for Belgium’s crown prince.
Crown Princess broke tradition by no longer bowing when her husband stepped out of out a car. She held her first press conference without her husband three years after her marriage (compared to seven years for her mother-in-law Empress Michiko).
In 2000, Princess Masako wrote the following poem about her husband: With my husband as my guide through these seven years, Our words of the heart grow deeper with each passing day.
Princess Masako and the Press
Women's magazines described Princess Masako’s impeccable suits, jewelry and designer hats and provided details on her weekly facials with silk overlays and Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair that left her skin "bright and shiny."
Masako was once criticized for speaking 39 second longer than her husband and reading the works of Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe, who has been critical of the imperial family. Once in a fit of anger, Masako reportedly poked a finger at a paparazzi and called him a worm.
On December 9, 1996, on of eve her 33rd birthday Masako, meet with reporters for the first time without her husband present. She answering the three question directed to her. In regards to her duties, she said, "At times, I experience hardship in trying to find the proper point of balance between traditional things and my own personality. While placing importance on the old things that are good its is also important to take into account the demands of a new age."
She also said, "In my daily life, I try as much as possible to consult with His Imperial Highness on any matter...I am certainly not in a state of depression so I hope no one will worry." She spoke for about 30 minutes, and then politely excused herself, saying she was a "little horse" from speaking for so long.
Masako's Trouble Getting Pregnant
After her honeymoon, Princess Masako said, "I don’t feel any special pressure to have a baby." But after a nine month grace period, the press took a different view. The newspapers were full of stories related to why she wasn't pregnant yet. There were rumors that the prince and princess had undergone fertility tests and there was speculation that the prince had a low sperm count. Masako was accused of lacking patriotism and prolonging the Japanese recession for not producing an heir. Many that the all her education and accomplishments accounted for little if she couldn’t have a child.
The littlest things were seen as signs that a royal baby was imminent. Once when Masako wore low heels at the National Bonsai Exhibition and then was unable to attend a reception for the German president it was seen as a sign that she was finally pregnant.
In response to the media coverage of his wife's troubles getting pregnant, Crown Prince Naruhito said, "A white stork seems to prefer a quiet environment." He has said the "stork" will come at "my pace," a reference to the fact that it took him six years to convince Masako to marry him. In 1999, Princess Masako said, "One often sees articles about the imperial family, about the Imperial Household Agency or about me based on preconceived notions or which advance arguments centering on conjectures with nor basis in fact."
On December 10, 1999, a Japanese newspaper reported that Princess Masako was showing "early indications" of pregnancy. The broadcast media and other newspapers picked up on the story and soon all of Japan was talking about an heir to the throne. The pregnancy was her first in seven years of marriage. It was never officially conformed by Imperial Palace officials. On December 30th, on the eve of ushering in the new millennium, it was announced that Princess Masako had suffered a miscarriage. It was widely believed that Masako had undergone fertility treatment and the pressure and stress of having to produce an heir was a contributing factor in the miscarriage.Afterwards Prince Naruhito made an unusually direct plea to the media to back off and show more "prudence and considerations...in areas that should remain part of an individual's privacy."
Princess Masako Has a Baby Girl
On December 1, 2001 Princess Masako gave birth to a baby girl. It was their first child after 8½ years of marriage for the 37 year-old princess and the 41-year-old prince. The baby was born at 2:43pm and was 49.6 centimeters tall and weighed 3,102 grams. The prince was in the delivery room during the birth and the princess was attended by a 12-person medical team with four doctors.
In accordance with tradition the Emperor gave the baby a sword for her protection and hakama (long pleated skirt) during Shiken bo Go ceremony on the day after her birth. When she was seven days old the name Aiko---which means "Love Child"---was officially bestowed on here by the Emperor in the Meimi no Gi ritual.
In a rare display of emotion, Princess Masako tearfully described how moved she was by the birth of Aiko in the first press conference after her birth. “When I saw my newborn baby brought close to my chest, I was filled with appreciation for her being born. I can still see the scene right in front of my eyes.”
Crown Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako broke tradition by naming their child themselves rather than having the Emperor do it. Unlike his father, Prince Naruhito accompanied his wife to the hospital during her eight medical check ups during pregnancy and was with her when she gave birth. The birth of Princess Akio renewed the debate of changing the male-only succession law.
Events Before Princess Masako Gave Birth
In April, 2001 the Imperial Palace announced that Princess Masako was showing "symptoms of pregnancy." In May the Imperial Palace formally announced she was three months pregnant.
The princess was generally out of view and pampered during her pregnancy. In July and October two separate traditional Shinto rites for a safe delivery were held. With memories of the miscarriage still fresh in people's minds, the press kept their distance and there was little news about the princess's condition until she was on her way to the hospital to deliver the baby.
When the news was released on the evening of November 30th that Princess Masako was going to the hospital most of the major television networks broke away from their regular programming to devote around-the-clock coverage to the Imperial birth. Stocks rose in companies that made baby food and children’s clothes in anticipation that a royal birth would set in motion a small baby boom.
Princess Masako Gets Depressed
In December 2003, Princess Masako was hospitalized with a case of shingles, a stress-related viral illness, and the Imperial Household announced that she was suffering from an “adjustment disorder” and “headaches and vertigo.” She was treated with anti-depressants. There was a rumor that he she had a breakdown. Many attributed her illnesses to the stress of the gilded cage and pressure to produce a male heir.
After that Princess Masako lived in seclusion and was not seen in public. In May, she failed to accompany her husband Prince Naruhito when went t a string of royal wedding in Europe. It was the first time the price and princess has been apart for a long period of time.
In an unprecedented move, Prince Naruhito criticized the Imperial Household for its efforts to “negate Masako’s career and personality.” He added, “In the past 10 years Masako, who gave up as a diplomat to marry me, did everything possible to adjust to the environment of the royal family. This has exhausted her.”
The Imperial Household Agency was flooded with angry e-mails from ordinary Japanese that were sympathetic to the princess and angry with the agency. The Emperor said he was “downcast” by the prince’s statement and wrote “there are still some things that I have not fully understood yet.” The crown prince’s brother Prince Akishino criticizes his brother for not talking over the matter first with emperor before gong public.
Masako’s condition was officially listed as an “adjustment disoder.” Psychiatrist Rika Kayama told the Asahi Shimbun that Masako’s illness most likely was the result of career-woman’s ambitions behind stifled by life in the Imperial cage. “Imperial duties are rather passive and symbolics,” she said, “making it difficult for the princess to feel challenged or rewarded, which may have gradually eroded her self-esteem and identity.” A former school mate of Masako said, although she was not “career-crazed” she “appears to have felt she was not fulfilling what she expected from herself, and thus felt stymied.”
Princess Masako Slowly Recovers
In September 2004, Princess Masako emerged from their seclusion and was photographed in the back of a car. In December she announced that she was feeling better and would soon resume her duties and was photographed with her husband and daughter.
In January 2005, Princess Masako performed her first official duties after a 13 month break when she appeared with the royal family on the balcony of the Imperial palace on New Year’s Day. In November she made her first solo public appearance in a long time---a visit to a festival organized by several orphanages.
On her 42nd birthday in December 2005 Masako released a written statement saying, “Thankfully, I am gradually getting better and have been able to attend little by little public events.” Around the same time the Imperial Household sai she “feels strongly stressed whenever she goes out and becomes a target of media coverage.”
In October 2006 Masako traveled to Nara Prefecture to perform her first official duties in nearly three years. After the visit one of her doctors told the press, she sometimes “feels more tired than she thought she would and can’t do thing as easily as she’d like.”
Princess Masako in the Late 2000s
Princess Masako is looked after by a team of doctors, including psychiatrist Yutaka Ono, a professor at Keio University. The Imperial doctors has issued a statement saying she still suffers from “chronic stress” and ths stress has been “beyond imagination.”
In June 2007, Princess Masako attended a national greenery ceremony in Nagano, It was here first official duty since attending a ceremony in Nara in October 2006. In February 2007, Crown prince Naruhito said his was wife was gradually recovering, but still stressed, adding she needed to regain her confidence before she could fully resume here duties.
In 2008 Princess Masako was “making efforts to expand her range of activities officially and privately” and was “resuming her official duties little by little.” She was shown at school events for her daughter and appeared beside her husband at the Emperor’s 75th birthday greeting to the public in December 2008. She turned 45 a couple weeks before that and attended a ceremony to welcome the King and Queen of Spain a couple weeks before that in November.
In April 2009, Princess Masako showed up with the Crown Prince at a greenery event in Yokohama. It was her first official duty outside of Tokyo in 15 months when she went to Nagano in January 2008 for the opening ceremonies of the winter national sports festival.
In January 2010, Princess Masako appeared at a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the Kobe earthquake.
In February 2011, palace doctors reported that Princess Masako had been treated for more than five years for “adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood.” They emphasized that the princess was recovering well, but with her rare appearances it doesn’t seem that way to the public.
Patience Begins to Wear Thin with Princess Masako
In recent years patience with Princess Masako has started to wear thin as people have asked, “Is it really that difficult to make a few public appearances and smile and be nice?” She has been photographed dining at expensive Chinese, Mexican and French restaurants when she said she was too depressed to make public appearances. The editor of a magazine that reports about the Imperial family said, “People are angry with Masako for making many private outings, although she can not carry out official duties.”
Right wing supporters of the Imperial family have called for the Crown Prince to divorce her because of the damage she is doing and the shame she is bringing to the Imperial family. Kaniji Nishio, a right wing academic wrote: “the members of the Imperial family are the passengers of the ship named the Imperial System. If one individual gets seasick and cannot stay on board, then there is no alternative but to disembark.”
Princess Masako gave a private dinner of the Prince Charles and his wife Camilla when they came to Japan in 2009 but did not make an appearance when the King of Spain came a few week later. One palace insider told the Times of London, “What logical explanation can we give for that? That the British are healthy but the Spanish make her ill?”
Kumiko Makihara wrote in the New York Times, “These days the Japanese are increasingly questioning whether, when the time comes, Crown Prince Naruhito will be able to carry out the duties of the throne---ceremonial as they are---with the continued absence of his wife. [Source: Kumiko Makihara, New York Times, May 27, 2010]
Makihara wrote "Princess Masako absence is a shame because she “is in a unique position to be a source of comfort and support to the Japanese, especially women, because she can cast light on their struggles through her own experiences with them. A plummet in career, infertility and school problems are common issues among women and mothers here. Psychological disorders, long stigmatized, are only recently being openly discussed.”
“The princess also has the charisma to appeal to a wide audience. I remember how giddy with excitement the women I spoke to along the streets of her wedding carriage procession were, charmed by her radiant smile and pretty face. Her rare public statements are frank and touching. “I was overcome with a feeling of “Thank you so much for coming into this world,” she said after the birth of Princess Aiko...Due to the stress she feels from being in the limelight, Princess Masako hasn’t spoken to the public since a 2002 press conference.”
Like most Japanese children, Aiko had a naming ceremony seven days after her birth. She was given another official name, Princess Joshi, which is supposed to be used while she is young, and visited three buildings in the Imperial Palace, one of which enshrines the souls of deceased emperors. The outfit she wore was made with silkworms raised by the Empress on the Imperial Palace grounds. To celebrate her birth, the government of Thailand gave Princess Aiko two young elephants.
When Aiko turned one she was brought out for photograph sessions and measured. She was 74.2 centimeters tall and weighed 9.32 kilograms and had four upper teeth and three lower ones. He parents said she enjoyed taking baths. “She happily holds onto the rim of the bathtub and likes to touch the taps,” her parents said in an answer to written reply to reporters” questions.
When Princess Aiko turned two, the Imperial Household Agency, issued a report saying she was 85.4 centimeters tall and weighed 12.5 kilograms and was able to run and jump and had learned the names of people and animals. When Princess Aiko turned three she was photographed sitting in a tree. The Imperial Household Agency announced, “She plays by doing things such as climbing trees, throwing large balls and reading picture books and playing house.”
According to The Imperial Household Agency, five-year-old Aiko rode a bicycle with training wheels in Togu Place played with stuffed animals and talked to her parents using ancient words she learned from picture cards with folk tales. She was also said to be a big sumo fan and knew the real names and hometowns of all the top wrestlers and has practiced sumo moves herself at home. .
Princess Aiko in School
Like all members of the royal family Princess Aiko is attending primary school---and in future will attend secondary school---at the Gakushuin school. She lives close enough to it to walk to school.
Princess Aiko entered Gakushuin Kindergarten in the spring of 2006 and attended it for two years She started the first grade at Gakushuin Primary School in April 2008. In the future she will learn flower arranging and traditional dancing.
Princess Aiko turned seven in December 2008 and was said to be enjoying primary school. At a sports festival in the fall she participated in the relay, dancing and ball rolling. According to the Imperial household Agency she also likes putting he thoughts into words and occasionally creates scenarios for plays. She also enjoys taking care of animals and flowers, as well as engaging ans playing musical instruments such as the piano and violin. .
In December 2009, Princess Aiko turned eight. According to the press release from the Imperial Household Agency she was involve in a number of school activities such as taking care of goldfish, running in a relay race and playing the part of a witch who grants wishes in her school play.
In March 2010 it was reported that 8-year-old Princess Aiko refused to go to school---where she was on the third grade--- complaining of anxiety and headaches, after saying she had been roughed up by boys in her class. The princess left school early one day and skipped school another day before returning to school with her mother attending classes with her. After that Princess Masako began accompanying her daughter to school every day, with the two of them returning home after just a few hours there.
Princess Aiko Turns 10, Spends More Time at School
Princess Aiko turned 10 in December 2011. Then a fourth-grader at Gakushuin Primary School in Tokyo, she had expressed anxiety the previous year about going to school but had been making the short commute to the school from the family's residence in the Motoakasaka district alone and had been attended classes from the first period of the day over the previous two months, according to the Imperial Household Agency. [Source: Kyodo, December 2, 2011]
The 47-year-old Crown Princess had previously accompanied Princess Aiko to school or joined her in the classroom, but the Crown Princess is accompanying her daughter home from school less frequently now, according to the agency. Princess Aiko took part in her first school sleepover outing in September, staying in the lakeside village of Yamanakako in Yamanashi Prefecture for two nights with roughly 120 schoolmates. Crown Princess Masako accompanied her on the trip at her request, according to the agency.
The little princess, who sometimes has meals with her mother in a school guest room, dined with her classmates during the trip, prompting a source to say the experience "has apparently given her courage in leading her school life."
Before Crown Prince Naruhito, 51, went to see the 77-year-old Emperor Akihito, who had been hospitalized with bronchial pneumonia, on Nov. 18, Princess Aiko nipped some flowers at their residence in the Akasaka Estate and gave them to her father so he could deliver them to the Emperor, according to the agency. The princess herself had been treated as the same hospital as the emperor a few days before for pneumonia.
At school, Princess Aiko plays the cello as a member of the school orchestra she joined last summer. She has also begun learning English and engaged in elementary-level conversations. The princess has taken an interest in playing cards using "Hyakunin isshu," a collection of ancient "waka" poems, with her parents sometimes engaging in the activity with her, according to the agency.
Princess Aiko, the Crown Prince and Emperor
In February 2008, the crown prince was told by the Imperial Household Agency that the Emperor wanted to see Princess Aiko more and that the crown prince and his family should visit the Emperor more often. Afterwards the crown prince vowed to visit his parents more frequently.
There are reports that the crown prince and the Emperor don’t communicate much and the comments made in public by the crown prince have upset and unsettled the Emperor and Empress. The Imperial Household Agency has reportedly urged the crown prince on many occasions to visit the Emperor more and the request was not fulfilled. There have been hints that the Empress’s health problems have been a result of strains between her and the crown prince’s family.
According to Imperial Household Agency the crown prince’s family visited the Emperor only three times in 2007 on a voluntary basis in addition to royal events they were expected to attend with the Emperor. That year there were 16 confirmed visits including royal birthday parties, top spinning, rice planting and dinners. By contrast the family of Prince Akishino visited the Emperor 45 times in the same period. When the Emperor was crown prince he and his family used to visit the Imperial Palace once a week. Image Sources: Imperial Household Agency, BBC, ABC, Sydney Morning Herald, Time, Royal Forum
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated July 2011