Saturday, November 12, 2011

Princess Masako

Princess Masako Owada joined the royal family when she married the Crown Prince Narhuito after a long courtship and numerous marriage proposals. It is speculated that she resisted marriage because of the constraints she knew it would put on her independent nature. Indeed, Masako has led a largely quiet royal life and there are rumors of her depression due to the intense pressure to bear a son.

Early Life
Crown Princess, born Masako Owada, on December 9, 1963, in Tokyo, Japan, to Ambassador Hisashi Owada, and Yumiko Owada. She has twin younger sisters, Reiko and Setsuko. Her father is a career diplomat who served as administrative vice minister of foreign affairs and Japan’s representative to the United Nations. As a child, Masako is remembered by her friends as a quiet, though strong-willed, leader who stood up to her teachers when she felt there was an injustice. She loved animals and sports, and once thought about becoming a veterinarian. Princess Masako was a star athlete, instrumental in organizing her high school’s girls softball team.

When her father accepted a teaching position at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the family moved to nearby Belmont. After the position ended, Masako stayed on to attend Harvard. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Economics. In 1986 she attended the University of Tokyo’s law department to study for the Diplomatic Service Examination. Princess Masako passed the notoriously difficult Foreign Ministry entrance exam after only one year of study (most people need at least two years, and even then only a small percentage pass), and joined the Foreign Ministry in 1987.

Meeting the Crown Prince
At a reception for Spain’s Princess Elena in Tokyo in 1986, Masako was introduced to the Crown Prince Naruhito. He became immediately enamored and began courting her. Masako, however, was not particularly interested in the prospect of a royal life, which she no doubt suspected would severely restrict her independent nature, and the promising career she had worked hard for. Instead of immediately accepting the prince's proposal, she began a two-year study at Oxford as part of an assignment from the Foreign Ministry.

Marriage and Subsequent Speculation
After the third time the proposal was extended, Masako at last relented, and married the Crown Prince in 1993 in a traditional ceremony. Many Japanese women who had followed the long courtship were surprised and even disappointed. They had admired her independence and the promise she represented to change the traditional status of women in Japanese society. They still believed that her presence in the royal family would be an opportunity for more progressive changes within the rigid Imperial Palace.

However, these hopes seem to have met with few encouraging signs from the Crown Princess. Seldom in the public eye outside of official engagements, Masako has led a largely quiet royal life, wearing the traditional clothes of her position, walking behind her husband, and addressing him in public as His Imperial Highness. The once ambitious Masako has been so seemingly stifled that tabloids began speculating that the princess was suffering from depression, stemming from her restricted lifestyle and the intense pressure to bear a son who would be heir to the throne. Friends of the princess and official statements from the Imperial Household dispute the rumors of her unhappiness and report that Masako leads a happy life with Naruhito, who shares her passion for literature, classical music, and sports.

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