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Japan's princess 'recovering' from royal stress

Japan's Crown Princess Masako emerged into public view on Wednesday, saying she was recovering from a stress-related illness but was not ready to resume her official duties.
Japanese Crown Princess Masako pose for photo in garden of Togu Palace in Tokyo
The Imperial Household Agency released this Nov. 17 photo of Crown Princess Masako, at Tokyo's Togu Palace, on Nov. 30 after the princess' absence raised public concerns.Ho / Reuters / file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Japan’s Crown Princess Masako, who turned 41 on Thursday, said she is recovering from a psychological disorder brought on by the pressures of royal life, but won’t resume her official duties for “some time.”

Masako has been out of the public view since December 2003, when she withdrew from official duties due to illness. Under pressure, palace officials later announced that the princess had a stress-related disorder and was receiving counseling and medication.

Her husband, Crown Prince Naruhito, said in May that a decade of palace life and pressure to produce an heir have left her exhausted and he blamed unidentified palace officials. Under Japanese succession laws only males are eligible to assume the throne, but the couple’s only child, Aiko, is a girl.

In a brief statement, Masako said: “I feel my health is getting better gradually.”

But she added that it would be “some time before I fully resume my official duties.” Masako did not have any celebrations planned, the Imperial Household Agency said.

The statement was given to the media Wednesday on the condition that it wouldn’t be released until early Thursday.

Recovering behind the palace moat
At a news conference Wednesday, Hideki Hayashida, grand master of the crown prince’s family, quoted Masako’s doctors as saying the princess is “heading toward recovery” but tires easily and doesn’t sleep soundly.

Still, she was well enough to go for a walk after exercising with 3-year-old Aiko recently, and might even attend some New Year’s events, Hayashida said, without elaborating.

At the start of every year, the royal family opens up a section of the moated palace in Tokyo and greets tens of thousands of well-wishers several times a day.

Masako, who was educated at Harvard and Oxford, gave up a diplomatic career 11 years ago to marry Naruhito. Many Japanese had hoped Masako would help reform the conservative, tradition-minded imperial family and the agency that runs the royals’ affairs. She had kept a low profile until her illness and the changing statements about her condition stirred a row behind the palace gates.

Public concerns for Masako have put pressure on the government to amend the succession law to allow Aiko to be next in line after her father. Recent polls show that 80 percent of the Japanese public supports the change. Japan has had ruling empresses in the past — though not since the late 1700s.