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Juliet Hindell
TOKYO - In the week following the death of Princess Diana, I spent a great deal of time outside the British Embassy in Tokyo. Everyday admirers - mostly women - came to pay their respects as they did around the world. Diana had found a following in Japan, a country she had visited three times. Many women told me they had seen her at first as a fairytale princess but later as a modern icon, an independent divorced woman getting on with her life.

The Japanese media had been as obsessive about Diana's appearance and her clothes as the rest of the world's press. But when it was revealed that the royal marriage was on the rocks the Japanese were hooked. The public acrimony and royal confessions were so different to what goes on in Japan.

The Japanese Imperial family is shielded from the prying eyes of the media. The marriage of Crown Prince Naruhito to a high-flying diplomat Masako Owada, who speaks several languages and has studied in the US and Britain, captivated the nation. But to the disappointment of some women who hoped Princess Masako might become a figurehead for her sex, she has virtually disappeared from view. All that expensive education and international experience seemed destined for not much more than a decorative role.

The Japanese media mounted wall-to-wall coverage of Princess Diana's fatal crash. Interest in the story was intense. I found myself suddenly an "expert" on royal matters when newspapers, magazines, news programmes and chat shows beat a path to the BBC's door to find out what the British really thought of Diana.

I had to call my family and friends to find out what the atmosphere was like. It was hard for a British person in Japan to explain what was going on in Britain to people in Japan. But the Japanese desperately wanted to know every detail. Every rumour that was reported - that Diana was allegedly pregnant, that her death was part of a plot - was poured over in Japan.

I was asked time and time again if these stories were true. Sadly I could only reply that I did not know.

I had the bizarre experience of appearing live on one Sunday morning talk show only to see an interview I had recorded earlier being played out on the rival channel. My landlady sent me flowers because she felt such deep sympathy for me as a grieving British person.

Outside the British Embassy one day a Japanese woman approached me. "Hindell-san, I feel so sorry for you," she said. "How hard it must be for you to work when you are in sorrow," she said tears welling in her eyes. I felt guilty for not feeling as much about the death of a British Princess as this Japanese woman obviously did. Was she interested in her own Imperial Family, I asked. "Not really, they are not as exciting," she said.

A year after Diana's death the media here are still interested in any story connected with her. The Japanese appetite for Diana is a result of being starved of details about their own Imperial Family.


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