15 FEBRUARY 2008

The heir to the Japanese throne has suffered a very public rap on the knuckles from the Imperial Household Agency. Speaking at a press conference the agency's Grand Steward told Crown Prince Naruhito he needs to see more of his parents - the Emperor and Empress. A similar message has been conveyed in a more low-key format before, but the Grand Steward claims "the number of visits to the Imperial Palace has not increased".

The candid insight into the Imperial family's private problems comes after Emperor Akihito complained in 2006 that he and his wife Empress Michiko did not see as much as they'd like of their granddaughter Princess Aiko, now six. "It is unfortunate we have not had more opportunities to meet Aiko," the emperor said. He added: "I am looking forward to seeing her more frequently from now on and enjoying relaxed conversations with her."

At the time Aiko's father, who is the heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, promised to address the issue. However, the highly unusual move - while the Imperial Household has an iron grip on the behaviour of the imperial family, it rarely intervenes in such a public way - seems to indicate the problem has not been resolved.

In the past the crown prince, whose wife has struggled to adapt to the confines of her role as an imperial spouse, has indicated his frustration with the inner workings of the royal lifestyle. Speaking with an unprecedented severity and directness in 2004, he said Masako's problems were a result of 'acts' which had denied the princess a career, her individuality and the freedom to travel.

Photo: © Alphapress.com
While their actions are closely governed by the secretive Household Agency, a whiff of discord has emerged from the Imperial family with the head of the agency delivering a highly public telling off to Naruhito for not seeing enough of his parents. In the past the crown prince has made unprecedented remarks about the treatment received by his wife, who has been suffering from what is described as an "adjustment disorder" for several years. These appeared to be aimed at the Household AgencyPhoto: © Getty ImagesClick on photo to enlarge
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