Masako, formerly a successful diplomat, twice refused Naruhito's proposal because she feared life in the royal household would be too restrictive. The couple married in 1993 (pictured) after a deeply protective Naruhito promised Masako she would have no cause for regret.
One authoritative royal watcher says there is "enormous public sympathy" for the troubled princess. "Most young Japanese women see Princess Masako's situation as similar to Princess Diana's," he explains
Photo: © AFP
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19 JULY 2004

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A crisis appears to be looming in the Japanese royal family, with the emergence of reports suggesting that Crown Prince Naruhito ought to divorce Princess Masako.

The crown princess has been in virtual seclusion since last December, when she ceased royal duties. Said to be suffering exhaustion as a result of the pressures placed on her, most notably to produce a male heir, the 40-year-old is rarely seen in public.

The latest speculation comes after official "leaks" from the staunchly conservative Imperial Household Agency, which oversees every aspect of palace life, were printed in the Japanese press. "Among people connected to the royal family there are some who have told me their opinion that Crown Princess Masako may not be appropriate as a future empress," royal watcher Toshiyaki Kawahada is quoted as saying.

"If this illness goes on for the next five or ten years, public criticism could arise,” continues the comment, “so before then, these people suggest, it would be better for the crown prince to divorce."

The crown princess made an appearance two weeks ago to play a game of tennis and attend a lecture with her husband. But the Imperial Household stressed her state of mind has still not improved. "She has not shown any signs of a positive change in her condition," revealed a representative.

Earlier this year, Prince Naruhito, in an unprecedented move, officially commented on what he described as "moves to destroy Masako's career and her personality". While he did not name those responsible, his criticisms were thought to be directed at the Imperial Household Agency.

The couple have one daughter, Aiko, born in December 2001. Despite traditionalists' pressure for a male heir, recent opinion polls show that 80 per cent of Japanese believe the constitution should be changed in order to allow a female to ascend to the throne, a move which would alleviate some of the pressure on the beleaguered Masako.

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