Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako will mark their 20th wedding anniversary on June 9 as speculation continues to swirl over the state of the health of Japan's next empress.
For nearly half of her marriage, Masako has been receiving treatment for what her doctors call stress-induced “adjustment disorder.”
At a news conference ahead of his 53rd birthday in February, Naruhito paid tribute to his 49-year-old wife for standing by him through thick and thin.
“Masako must have gone through many hardships, but I thank her from the bottom of my heart for helping and supporting me,” he said.
One of the “hardships” was the unrelenting pressure on her to produce a male heir. Princess Aiko, the couple’s only child, was born in December 2001.
“We were under enormous pressure,” Naruhito recalled in a statement on their 10th wedding anniversary. “Masako must have gone through difficult days.”
Masako’s extended care and treatment began after she was hospitalized for shingles in December 2003. In July 2004, she was diagnosed as suffering from “adjustment disorder.”
Masako had a promising career at the Foreign Ministry before her marriage.
She traveled overseas with her husband in 1994 and 1995. She also met with reporters between 1996 and 2002 when it was her birthday and to mark her daughter’s birth.
But she has not given a news conference since her rehabilitation started, and has largely remained out of the public eye.
In a statement to mark her birthday in December, Masako said, “I want to continue efforts for recovery to make the most of the last year while I am in my 40s.”
In April, Masako traveled to the Netherlands with Naruhito to attend the coronation for King Willem-Alexander. It was her first official overseas trip in 11 years.
In recent years, it has become almost customary for Naruhito to fulfill his official duties alone in Japan and abroad.
Masayasu Hosaka, a nonfiction writer versed in the imperial family, said Naruhito and Masako can choose to develop their own style in how they perform official duties.
He said the way the imperial family conducts its business has been varied over generations, although Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko established a style of acting together.
“If reasons are clearly explained, the crown prince can usually perform official duties and attend ceremonies on his own, while the crown princess takes part as much as possible, giving priority to her treatment,” Hosaka said.
Long-time acquaintances of Naruhito or Masako shared their thoughts ahead of the wedding anniversary.
Toshu Ogawa, an 85-year-old calligrapher, has known Masako for 30 years.
In December 1992, Masako turned up unannounced at Ogawa’s exhibition in Tokyo. He came across her staring at his work featuring the character for “time.”
Ogawa later learned that Masako had accepted Naruhito’s marriage proposal only hours earlier.
“I think she was filled with both expectations and anxiety about her future,” he said.
When he was visiting Harvard University, Ogawa used to invite Japanese students to parties. But Masako would always return to her room at a certain time to study.
“She puts in enormous efforts without being noticed by those around her,” Ogawa said.
Vocalist Yoshitsugu Shimizu, 74, was a music teacher when Naruhito attended the Gakushuin Boys’ Junior and Senior High School.
He later taught singing to Naruhito at the Togu Palace after he got married. Naruhito would sing pieces by composers Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert.
“He has a good voice,” Shimizu said. “I thought he was under huge stress because he was attracting so much public attention.”
Kanze Kiyokazu, 54, grand master of the Kanze school of Noh performers, has known Naruhito since they were classmates in the Gakushuin Primary School.
He watched Naruhito and Masako on TV during their trip to the Netherlands.
“He was all smiles,” Kanze said. “I could tell that he was glad from the bottom of his heart because I have seen him since I was a first-grader.”
(This article was written by Ryuichi Kitano and Yasuhiko Shima.)
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