updated 6/8/2004 11:14:52 AM ET 2004-06-08T15:14:52

Japan’s crown prince said Tuesday he hadn’t meant to blame individual palace officials for his wife’s illness, but stressed he would fight to make the palace a more livable place for the princess.

Naruhito caused a furor in May by suggesting that unidentified palace officials caused Crown Princess Masako’s troubles. In unusually pointed remarks, the prince said his wife’s activities had been restricted, contributing to her stress-induced exhaustion.

On Tuesday, Naruhito said he hadn’t been trying to single anyone out.

“I didn’t intend to criticize the actions of individuals. I wanted the public to understand the current situation,” he said in a statement, after discussing the matter with Imperial Household Agency chief Toshio Yuasa. “It breaks my heart that I have brought worry to so many, including the emperor and empress.”

But Naruhito said he wanted changes at the Imperial Household Agency — an institution that manages palace affairs and has a reputation for being secretive and extremely conservative.

“For the sake of Masako’s recovery ... I will talk with the agency, including about the way (the princess and I) conduct our official duties,” said the 44-year-old prince. “I want our activities to reflect a new era.”

Masako, a former diplomat who was educated at Harvard and Oxford, married the prince in 1993 amid expectations that she would modernize the royal family. Instead, she assumed a low profile, and often alluded to the pressures at the palace. She had a miscarriage before having her first child, a daughter, in 2001.

Stress and fatigue
Since being diagnosed with shingles in December, the 40-year-old princess has not appeared in public. The skin rash is often triggered by stress and fatigue.

At a news conference last month before heading to Europe, the prince said his wife wouldn’t join him because she hadn’t recovered.

“Masako has tried her best these 10 years to try to adjust to palace life, but it has exhausted her,” Naruhito said. “It is true that there have been movements to deny Masako’s career and her character.”

On Tuesday, Naruhito reiterated that Masako hasn’t had an easy time adapting to the imperial lifestyle. Pressure to produce a male heir and a lack of foreign trips had taken a heavy toll, the crown prince said. No male has been born into the imperial family since the 1960s.

However, those weren’t the only factors, he said.

“It has required a great deal of effort for Masako to adjust to the traditions, media and environment of the palace,” Naruhito said. “There is nothing to gain from specifying a target, so I will refrain from discussing details.”

Asked for a response, Imperial Household Agency spokesman Mitsuhiro Saito declined to comment.

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