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Masako in the spotlight as succession issue debated

February 19, 2006
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Smiling serenely and elegantly dressed in a sharp pinstripe suit, Japan's Crown Princess Masako stepped out for a rare formal engagement in Tokyo. Giving no hint of the uncertainty surrounding her family since news broke of her sister-in-law's pregnancy, the glowing 42-year-old viewed bonsai trees with husband, Crown Prince Naruhito at an exhibition in the country's capital.

The couple seemed relaxed and in good spirits on their first official outing together since last July. It's also the first time the royal's been seen in public since Princess Kiko, the wife of Naruhito's younger brother Akishino, revealed that she's expecting a baby in the autumn.

Aside from two recent appearances on the Imperial Palace balcony, Masako's been keeping a low profile, trying to ease herself slowly back into public life following two years out of the spotlight due to a stress-related illness. Her nervous condition was thought to have been brought on partly by pressure to produce a male heir.

The majority of the public supported proposed changes to the succession laws that would pave the way for her daughter Princess Aiko to become the country's first reigning empress since the 18th century.

But that was before Kiko's baby announcement and conservatives have urged caution before altering the status quo. "It's a joyous piece of news, but if a boy is born it must be a shock to Princess Masako," was the comment of Kumiko Yamazaki, a 62-year-old Tokyo housewife.

Others disagree, arguing that if the staus quo is maintained and a boy is born, it may have the opposite effect of allowing Masako to complete her recovery without emotional burdens.

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Photo: ©
On her first formal engagement with husband Crown Prince Naruhito since last July, Masako seemed at ease despite the ongoing succession debate Photo: © AFP
Photo: ©
The royal couple were viewing a bonsai exhibition in TokyoPhoto: © AFP

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