After a decade of recuperating, Crown Princess Masako’s health has significantly improved in recent months, leading to an increased number of official duties ahead of her 50th birthday on Dec. 9.
A call from a royal family member overseas, her daughter’s own recovery from anxieties, and the strong bond with her husband are behind Masako’s renewed strength and confidence, people close to her said.
Her duties and public appearances were sharply curtailed after she was found to be suffering from an “adjustment disorder” in 2004.
On Nov. 2 this year, Masako visited temporary housing facilities in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, for evacuees from the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
“Please keep in good health,” she told the residents who gathered around her at one facility. “Please take care of yourselves.”
Outside the facility, Masako broke from her schedule and approached a small girl held by her mother.
With a soft expression on her face, the princess asked the girl, “Are you 1 year old?”
Masako’s visit to Iwate Prefecture included an overnight stay, her first in a local area in three years and nine months.
In August and September, she made single-day visits to disaster-hit areas in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, respectively.
People close to Masako say her health improved after she attended the coronation ceremony for Dutch King Willem-Alexander on April 30.
Masako had been worried about attending the ceremony in her condition. But the king’s wife, then Crown Princess Maxima, directly called Masako to invite her to join the ceremony and celebrate the coronation.
Masako felt relieved when she was greeted warmly in the Netherlands, and she completed the visit without any problems.
“She apparently obtained significant self-confidence,” said a high-ranking official of the Imperial Household Agency.
The improvement in Masako’s health coincides with the recovery of her daughter, Princess Aiko, from anxieties about going to school.
In 2010, Aiko had problems attending Gakushuin Primary School. Masako took her daughter to and from the school every day, telling people close to her, “I must make the effort because I am her mother.”
Masako was hospitalized in December 2003 for shingles. The medical team in charge of the family later said she had an “adjustment disorder,” but the doctors have yet to reveal the cause of the ailment.
Around that time, Masako was feeling heavy pressure to give birth to a boy--a future emperor. Only males can ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne.
The pressure is believed to have been one of the causes of her disorder.
Those who know Masako also said she lost confidence in herself because she sometimes felt she was not needed in the daily lives and events of the imperial family.
Crown Prince Naruhito in May 2004 stood up for his wife, saying there were “developments that denied Crown Princess Masako’s career … as well as her personality driven by her career.”
Those close to the princess, a Harvard graduate and former diplomat, say her strong bond with the crown prince supported her through the tough times.
Before their wedding, Masako told her friends about her dates with Naruhito.
One friend quoted Masako as saying shyly, “Yesterday, I was told this by the crown prince … .” The friend thought happily that Masako had fallen in love with Naruhito.
Masako’s health condition still fluctuates, but she appears to be overcoming the disorder on her own.
“Starting this year, the scope of her activities has expanded,” said Kyoji Komachi, grand master of the Crown Prince’s Household.
(This article was written by Yasuhiko Shima and Ayako Nakada.)
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