Page last updated at 10:58 GMT, Friday, 3 February 2006

Princess trapped by palace guard

Princess Masako, 1993
Happier times: Princess Masako in 1993, when she married

When Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito finally persuaded Masako Owada to marry him in June 1993, most people in the nation were delighted.

Princess Masako was a beautiful, multi-lingual career diplomat who had travelled the world.

But a decade later, the fairytale has turned sour.

The 42-year-old is suffering from a clinical condition brought on by stress and only makes rare appearances in public.

Many blame her ill health on the pressure on her to produce a male heir to the Japanese throne, which is in the midst of a succession crisis.

Princess Masako's diagnosis with Adjustment Disorder, which is linked with symptoms of depression or anxiety, may also be a result of her abrupt transition of lifestyle.

She went from being a negotiator of tough trade issues with the US to a member of the most rigid hereditary monarchies in the world.

The daughter of a senior diplomat, and the granddaughter of a businessman, Masako Owada was born in Tokyo on 9 December 1963.

At times I experience hardship in trying to find the proper point of balance between traditional things and my own personality
Princess Masako, 1996
Her early life was spent travelling as a result of her father's job. She attended kindergarten in Moscow, high school in Boston, and university at Harvard, graduating in 1985 with a degree in economics.

She then entered the faculty of law at Tokyo University - the training ground for the cream of Japanese bureaucrats.

Fluent in several languages, she entered the Japanese Foreign Ministry in 1987, spending some time at Balliol College in Oxford for further studies.

Palace pressures

But since her marriage, the restrictions imposed by the Imperial Household have meant the former jet-setting Princess Masako has only travelled a handful of times.

It has been assumed that conservatives in the Imperial Household have wanted her close to home so she could concentrate her energies on conceiving.

In the stultifying atmosphere of Tokyo's Togu Palace, even phone calls to her parents are rumoured to first need approval by a vast entourage of court officials.

Japan's Crown Princess Masako smiles as she waves to well-wishers from the bullet-proof glass-covered balcony of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Friday, Dec. 23, 2005.
The princess now only makes limited appearances in public

This clash between her cosmopolitan background and the conservative atmosphere at the Imperial Household became evident quite quickly.

After just over three years of marriage, Princess Masako was admitting: "At times I experience hardship in trying to find the proper point of balance between traditional things and my own personality".

It took five years for the princess to conceive, and just as a media frenzy erupted following rumours she was pregnant, the Imperial Agency grimly announced a miscarriage.

Following fertility treatment, she finally gave birth to a girl, Aiko, four years ago.

But that was not enough for the imperial courtiers. A boy is required to inherit the throne. The Imperial Agency's chief, Toshio Yuasa, publicly called on the couple to have a second child.

It appears that Princess Masako may not be able to draw solace from the imperial family, either.

She is rumoured to have a poor relationship with her in-laws, despite the fact she shares a similar background with Empress Michiko.

The empress, too, is a commoner, and is reported to have suffered a similar bout of depression in the 1960s.

Princess Masako was close to Prince Takamado, the emperor's cousin. But he died in 2002 after collapsing during a game of squash at the Canadian embassy.

She is lent support, however, by her husband, who in May 2004 lashed out at courtiers who he said had "nullified her career as well as her character".

There may be limits, however, to the extent Prince Naruhito can comfort his wife, who is said to have turned down his marriage proposal twice for fear that her new life would be too constricting.

Japan's princess on public view
20 Jul 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Japanese princess ill with stress
30 Jul 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Japanese prince stands by appeal
08 Jun 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Japanese princess 'exhausted'
23 Feb 04 |  Asia-Pacific

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