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Japanese Prince Tries to Quell Rumors of Palace Discord

June 09, 2004|Bruce Wallace | Times Staff Writer

TOKYO — Trying to stifle rumors of a feud inside Japan's imperial household, Crown Prince Naruhito apologized Tuesday for the national "anxiety" caused by his remarks last month, in which he blamed his wife's brittle emotional health on the smothering lifestyle imposed by courtiers.

But the 44-year-old heir to the throne also warned that he was determined to see those advisors relax their iron grip on Crown Princess Masako, 40, who has been suffering from what is officially described as a "stress-related illness." She has not been seen in public since December.

His declaration offered another glimpse of what increasingly appears to be an unhappy world behind the ceremonial curtains of the imperial household, which by tradition has studiously avoided public controversy.

"I hope that from now on, Masako will carry out her duties with her normal confidence and vivid energy, fully utilizing her career and reflecting a new era," Naruhito said in the statement Tuesday, the eve of the couple's 11th wedding anniversary. "I think it is most important for me to create such an atmosphere."

The princess was a diplomat by profession when she married into the imperial family and has chafed at being limited to a ceremonial role. In his statement, Naruhito reiterated his charge last month that "there were moves to deny the career Masako had developed and important parts of her personality based on that career."

He has refused to identify whom he holds responsible for stifling Masako.

The couple have also said they feel especially battered by the not-so-subtle calls from imperial advisors to produce a son who could preserve the male lineage into another generation. The royals have a daughter, Princess Aiko, born in 2001. But Japan's law of succession -- drafted during the 19th century Meiji era -- dictates that only a male can reign.

Naruhito first voiced complaints about their treatment in February, then again last month as he departed -- without Masako -- to attend royal weddings in Spain and Denmark. Images of the unaccompanied prince in the company of relaxed European royals of the same generation also stirred debate in Japan about the nature of the nation's monarchy.

Though it would hardly register on a British royal scandal meter, the fuss still leaves Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko uncomfortably trapped between their son and daughter-in-law on one side and the Imperial Household Agency -- the deeply conservative bureaucracy that orchestrates the public lives of the royal family -- on the other.

Naruhito's declaration came after a meeting Tuesday between the prince and Toshio Yuasa, the agency's grand steward, aimed at resolving their clashing visions of how the Japanese monarchy should operate.

Yuasa also issued a statement after the meeting. He said the prince and the agency would discuss ways for Masako to resume her official role.

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