Sunday, September 05, 2004

The Gilded Cage

In light of the torments she's had to go through since her marriage to Prince Naruhito, one can well understand why the former Masako Owada turned down his marriage proposals at least twice. It has to take a lot to transform a formerly vivacious, intelligent and cosmopolitan woman into a nervous wreck, but the Imperial Household seems to have managed it just fine.

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Crown Princess Masako emerged briefly on Saturday from months of seclusion to visit the emperor, but officials said it might be difficult for her to resume her official duties this year.

Masako, who the palace said in July was suffering from stress-related depression caused by having to adjust to royal life, was accompanied by Crown Prince Naruhito for the short trip, her first venture outside palace grounds for around four months.

Television footage showed the 40-year-old princess smiling and bowing from behind the car window as she and Naruhito were driven from the palace where they live to the nearby residence of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.

"I believe she went to thank the emperor and empress for their good wishes and hopes for her recovery during her illness," said a spokesman at the Imperial Household Agency, which handles the royal family's affairs.


Her husband set off a furor last spring when he said that Masako, once a cheerful and outgoing career diplomat, had become totally exhausted by 10 years of efforts to adapt to palace life.

There were hints in July that her health might be improving when palace officials reported that she had begun playing tennis with the crown prince, but they warned even then that it was too early to say she was truly recovering.

At the end of July, though, officials announced that she was experiencing anxiety and depressive moods, and that her doctors felt it would be difficult for her to carry out official duties.

Royal watchers say much of the stress comes from pressure on her to produce a male heir and from moves to prevent her from acting as a sort of "royal envoy" overseas.
Perhaps because Princess Masako was so much more accomplished than Diana, and not at all the self-promoter that the latter woman turned out to be, I find myself feeling much more sympathetic towards her than I ever did to Lady Di of the Glamourous Friendships and Playboy Boyfriends. Still, looking at the way in which both of these marriages have turned out, one has to wonder what it is women who dream of marrying a prince on a white horse think they're getting themselves into. Are fetters less stifling simply because they're golden?