11 January 2010

Princess Masako

by Ben Hills

Random House. Australian, Biographical, Adult Non-Fiction. Paperback rrp $34.95

Princess Masako is the fascinating story of the Japanese Royal family, in particular Crown Princess Masako and her husband, Crown Prince Naruhito. It’s a love story but also a tragedy.

Masako Owada was a Harvard educated diplomat, a successful career woman in the competitive world of Japanese government bureaucracy. Marrying the Crown Prince meant sacrificing her career for a life of strict palace protocol - with no real role other than to bear an heir.

For seven years Masako avoided the Prince’s proposal. Deeply in love, Naruhito persisted until they were married in 1993. But this is no fairy tale. The Prince and Princess were prisoners of the Kunaicho bureacrats and the conventions of Japanese royalty. According to the author’s sources, after conversing with Clinton in English and Gorbachev in Russian at a state dinner, Masako was reprimanded and reminded her role was to ‘smile nicely’.

The pressure to bear a son was an enormous strain on the Princess. The 2600-year-old dynasty was in danger of perishing. Although her health was failing Masako eventually bore a daughter. Japan began to consider changing the law of male succession until Nurahito’s sister-in-law fell unexpectedly pregnant at 39, and bore a son.

Today Masako participates in few public duties and is under constant medical care. Officially ailing from ‘adjustment disorder’, she is widely believed to be suffering depression. The one thing that no-one is disputing is Prince Nurahito’s ongoing love for his wife.

Author Ben Hills is a Wakely award winning journalist and a foreign correspondent with over thirty years experience. Having spent three years reporting in Japan, he is an authoritative voice on a taboo subject. The book raises many issues closed to discussion in Japan. Did Masako have IVF? Is she suffering from a mental illness? Are the Kunaicho, ‘the men in black’, to blame for her illness? Although not published in Japan, this ‘unauthorised’ biography generated much controversy. You can read about this ‘second story’ on the author’s web site http://www.benhills.com/.

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