By Jonathan Head
Japan's Emperor Akihito was speaking on his 71st birthday
Japan's Emperor Akihito has made a rare statement expressing his distress over the controversy surrounding the illness of Crown Princess Masako.
Speaking on his 71st birthday, he said he was surprised when his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, complained about restrictions imposed on the princess.
Princess Masako is believed to be suffering from stress caused by pressure to have a son.
Under Japanese law, only males can succeed to the throne.
The emperor's birthday is one of the few occasions on which ordinary Japanese people feel comfortable expressing nationalist feelings.
Thousands of well-wishers are allowed through the ancient wooden gates of the Imperial Palace to wave flags and cheer their monarch and his family.
For the second year running, though, there was a significant gap in the stiff line of waving royals.
Crown Princess Masako (R) is under pressure to have a boy
Crown Princess Masako is still unable, or unwilling, to make public appearances, as she is being treated for unspecified stress-related illnesses.
In fact, she has not been seen in public for more than a year.
In his speech, Emperor Akihito gave a gloomy picture of the troubles afflicting people around the world, although carefully avoiding mention of his own family's problems.
But in an earlier statement he described being surprised and saddened by the comments from his son and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Naruhito, earlier this year, when he complained of the pressures imposed on Princess Masako by the palace.
Coming just a month after the emperor's other son, Akishino, also rebuked his brother, it appears the royal family is now closing ranks to try to limit the damage caused by Prince Naruhito's remarks.
But opinion polls show that much of the Japanese public sympathises with the crown prince and princess, and would accept a change in the law so that their three year-old daughter Aiko could eventually inherit the throne.