Japan’s Princess Mako, left, and her fiance Kei Komuro. Rafu Shimpo/Kyodo News via AP
By Mari Yamaguchi
Japan’s emperor died last December, ending three decades of intense rule by the single, nearly- senile grandfather — a reign that was always riddled with controversy.
It was the end of the last of the five imperial family members, and a formality. But Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako, the emperor’s son and his daughter-in-law, are overseeing a huge task now that the official period of mourning is over.
Their task is made harder because palace officials and psychiatrists warn that he and Masako, the head of the family, will face difficult challenges going forward.
Analysts say that former Princess Masako, a renowned education expert who entered the Imperial Household Agency’s prestigious Children and Youth Division, is adrift in her marriage and increasingly estranged from the imperial family.
She is reportedly sad and depressed and is not taking her duties seriously, often withdrawing from public life, according to her psychologist. She’s also struggling with depression, according to her husband, Takashi Yasuda, who is Japanese nationals and Crown Prince Naruhito’s cousin.
“She [Masako] is very sad and confused,” Yasuda told The Associated Press. “I look after her. She can feel happy when she knows she is taking care of the little thing that worries her, such as matters of the state. When people who don’t know are trying to contact us, we go and talk to them and pick up.”
But a process of “the resurrection and growth” of Masako should not be made too fast, he said.
“We have to act with prudence and temper and do our best to not rush,” he said.
In order to pay her respects to her father, Japan’s Prince Naruhito and his wife, Princess Masako, leave their mansion at Tsuruoka Castle, northern Japan, on March 21, 2015. Shotomi Okazaki / Reuters
But the couple is far from a happy married couple, in stark contrast to a traditional marriage where the newlyweds enjoy a close bond with their parents.
“She [Masako] is fond of eating with her husband and Japanese foods,” Yasuda said. “But when she watches television with me she’s more interested in foreign shows, or American dramas or Korean dramas. She thinks Japanese shows are boring.”
It’s a problem, particularly in a new culture dominated by Western and American values.
In this Feb. 2, 1991, file photo, Princess Masako, left, who is married to Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito speaks with her father, Japan’s Emperor Akihito, during an official welcoming ceremony in Tokyo. Masako, whose determination to break out of royal life and the public’s passive assumption that she will always remain silent about her fears has become a cause of unease, and been portrayed as a trauma-induced snob, usually agreed-upon for the first time at the imperial palace’s annual New Year toast in 1996. A Hulton Archive / Getty Images
“Masako has problems of self-image, marriage, language, family life, cultural issues,” said Takashi Imai, a former diplomat and historian.
But she has changed some as a person and is developing a less prim position for herself in public.
In an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, Masako denied the “snipper” and “naively stoic” reputation attached to her in the media.
“I am still 100 percent Japan. I don’t let people around me think that I’m not,” she said.
Many in Japan are wondering if there’s enough public support for Masako to stay in her role. Some view her duties as too small and her absence from official business as a crisis in the family, although some critics note that Naruhito has many foreign friends and enjoys good public approval.
Ultimately, there is one thing on everyone’s mind: Her future.
“If her public speaking abilities and social skill don’t improve before she loses the royal title,” Imai said, “she could end up becoming a role model.”
“She will look for positive experiences,” said Noritoshi Tsugaru, a professor at New York University in Tokyo. “I think she will become part of the world community, like … perhaps in peace, and become a very valuable personality and figure