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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tears in the Chrysanthemum Palace

Sulaiman Kamal | 10:13 PM | | | Best Blogger Tips

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It is a tale of unmitigated sorrow of a woman who made a very personal choice under great duress at the age of 30 to marry a prince.
(Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne by Ben Hills) The phrase “lived happily ever after” as many modern married couples will tell you exists only in fairy tale books.
It is all the more true when it comes to royal households, especially in the 20th and 21st centuries. This book by Australian journalist Ben Hills is a compelling read, simply because Crown Prince Naruhito will be the next Emperor of Japan in due course.
His wife, Masako Owada, is the central figure or subject of great interest in the book. Her upbringing, background and impressive academic credentials are factors behind the heavily veiled goings-on in Japan’s Chrysanthemum Throne which has been in existence for 2,600 years.
It is the oldest hereditary monarchy in the Japan so one can understand why royal traditions and decorum are strictly adhered to under all circumstances.

This is a sad story of a girl who grew up travelling the world, amassing during her journeys some remarkable academic achievements, mastering six languages and collecting a magna cum laude (economics) from Harvard University.
It is on record that Masako is fluent in French and English and has a working knowledge of Spanish, Russian and German. She can also hold a decent conversation in the last three languages.
Since her father was a senior Japanese diplomat and now the president of the International Court of Justice, her growing years had seen her experiencing the lifestyles and cultures of Russia, America and England.
Her early ambition was to excel and succeed in the field of international diplomacy but her aims in life were cut short when Princess Naruhito met Masako Owada at the University of Tokyo in 1986 while she was still a student.

Elusive girl
Writer Hills put it succinctly that it “was love at first sight” for the young prince. The feeling unfortunately was not mutual. Masako at that time was more concerned about advancing her career in the political arena of foreign affairs.
For the next seven years, Prince Naruhito pursued the elusive girl of his dreams. Sometimes his overtures were subtle, at times he tried to the best of his royal abilities to put himself in the most advantageous position.
But at every encounter with Masako, the prince was left with the feeling that perhaps this was one mountain peak that would be impossible to conquer. After all, he was an accomplished mountain climber.
When the Japanese prince passed the age of 32, his parents, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, became concerned that their first born may remain a bachelor for the rest of his life.
It was a little disguised fact that Prince Naruhito had left no uncertain terms that Masako was the only life partner he would consider. In the end, the Empress interceded on behalf of her son with Masako’s parents.
It became a situation which was impossible for a distinguished and dignified family to say “no”. Masako’s father eventually said he would not oppose the marriage but the final decision was up to his daughter.
A meeting was arranged between Princess Michiko and Masako. The outcome was the announcement of the engagement of Prince Naruhito and Masako Owada on Jan 19, 1993.
The book says Masako had suffered sleepless nights arriving at her life-altering decision. How traumatic it would be would unfold in stages over the years after the marriage which took place before a worldwide audience of more than 500 million on June 9, 1993.
Sad tale
Behind the public announcement of engagement and subsequently marriage were the courtiers known as Kunaicho. They belong to the Imperial Household Agency and Hills has done them no favours in describing their activities.
Hills described the Kunaicho’s activities in the Chrysanthemum Throne as fierce loyalty in safeguarding the royal household and in ensuring at all costs its continuity. Thus after the marriage, Masako was under tremendous pressure to produce a male offspring.
If she failed in delivering a son, it would be the first time for the descendants of this royal family who had ruled Japan for 600 years. After an earlier miscarriage and eight years of marriage, the royal couple were blessed with the birth of Princess Toshi or more popularly known as Aiko.
This highly controversial book was initially banned in Japan because Hills mentioned that the birth of Aiko was made possible by in-vitro fertilisation and the Kunaicho or the Imperial Household Agency made life almost impossible for Princess Masako.
When Japan’s biggest publisher Kodansha refused to print “Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne” in 2006 over what it claimed was the writer’s “refusal to acknowledge 149 errors” in the book, the news quickly spread around the world.
Then in 2007, the Japanese Foreign Ministry told a press conference that the book was “insulting to the Japanese people and the Imperial Palace”.
What probably cut to the deep as far as the royal family was concerned were the writer’s remarks that “there are two families in Japan which you can never leave – The Yakuza (crime gangs) and the royal family…”
Rumours about the cracks in the bedrock of the royal couple’s marriage surfaced at a time when Princess Masako began to exhibit symptoms of chronic depression which the Imperial Household Agency had termed as “adjustment disorder”.
The book puts it in plain words that the sad tale is not over and the girl who had started out in life with so much promise had reached the age of 47 only to find herself staring at a bleak and gloomy future.
Perhaps, as hinted by the writer, the only ray of hope for the highly qualified princess is her daughter, Aiko. The promise that Prince Naruhito had given Masako when he proposed to her about using all the powers at his disposal to protect her and help her fulfil her dreams did not materialise.
As a reader, one cannot rule out the possibility that this book may be found wanting in the truth department with regard to several aspects that are currently going on.
Even if only half of what is said in the book is true, it is a steady stream of tears that flows through the Palace of the Chrysanthemum Throne.
We all know that most royals all over the world do not have it as good as the ordinary people have always imagined. However, sometimes dreams become nightmares in a brief flicker of time.
Even today, Princess Masako cuts a fascinating figure. Her life has become a half-opened book by Japanese standards. It is a fact that she has been suffering from prolonged depression.
No matter from which window you peek through, it is still a tale of unmitigated sorrow of a woman who made a very personal choice under great duress at the age of 30 to marry a prince.


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