Its been five years since Crown Princess Masako of Japan has been seen doing any official royal duties. She has not accompanied her husband, Naruhito, on any official foreign visits, and she has not taken part in simple royal tasks. Her last outing on Saturday to the photo exhibition, ‘Empress and her children” at Takashimaya department store in Tokyo was the first time Masako was seen in public in months.
This is because the Crown Princess is said to be suffering from depression, due to stress brought on by being a member of the Imperial family.
But, the princess has reportedly been seen shopping and dining at ritzy stores and restaurants. She is doing these, while she should be performing her duties. Stories like that has led to national sympathy for Masako to wane, and increasingly, some are wondering whether the crown princess is really ill at all.
This has led to a crisis of legitimacy for the Imperial family, a family once seen as dieties before World War II.
“Royal families around the world can no longer take for granted their legitimacy,” a palace source said last week. “In the 125th generation [of the present Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko], legitimacy is earned through hard work and humility. But we worry about the 126th generation.”
That worry will highlighted when Japan receives two royal visits towards the end of the year. The first will be from Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, next week. That will be followed by a November visit from the King and Queen of Spain.
Masako is expected to be present for the British visit, but not for the Spanish. “What logical explanation can we give for that?” a palace insider asks. “That the British are healthy but the Spanish make her ill?”
Such growing discontent towards Masako has led to the inevitable yet controversial question: Should the Imperial family divorce Masako, and set her free?
In May a magazine ran an article by Kanji Nishio, a right-wing academic and champion of the Imperial Family. He urged that Princess Masako’s family “take her back” – a euphemism for divorce – because of the damage that she is doing to the Imperial Family. “The members of the Imperial Family are the passengers of the ship named the Imperial System, but not its owners,” he wrote. “If one individual gets seasick and cannot stay on board, then there is no alternative but to disembark.”
“Nishio has started a debate that people with common sense want to participate in,” Tomoko Seo, an editor at the magazine, said. “People are frustrated and angry with Masako for making many private outings, although she cannot carry out official duties.”
This past July, Masako’s husband Crown Prince Naruhito issued a statement, saying his wife was doing all that she can to recover from her illness. This week to mark her 74th birthday, Empress Michiko said she was standing by her daughter-in-law, though she did not go into detail about her sickness.