Japan's reclusive Princess Masako back in public eye: 5 things about her life after marriage

Japan's Crown Princess Masako (right) and Crown Prince Naruhito leave a welcoming ceremony for King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Oct 29, 2014. King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima are in Ja
Japan's Crown Princess Masako (right) and Crown Prince Naruhito leave a welcoming ceremony for King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Oct 29, 2014. King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima are in Japan on a six-day visit. -- PHOTO: AFP

Japan's reclusive Princess Masako has attended her first banquet in 11 years.

The 50-year-old Princess accompanied her husband Crown Prince Naruhito at an imperial banquet, held for the visiting King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands. She also attended a welcoming ceremony for the Dutch royal couple - her first in five years.

The Japanese imperial couple wed to much fanfare in 1993. The daughter of a senior diplomat, Princess Masako attended Harvard University and later joined Japan's foreign ministry. She reportedly turned down Prince Naruhito's proposals of marriage twice because of concerns about adapting to imperial life.

Independent-minded, strong-willed and having put aside a promising diplomatic career, the Japanese public had hopes that she would bring change to the conservative palace culture.

While there was a sense of optimism in the initial years, she later stayed away from royal duties and public appearances for about a decade between 2002 and 2012, because of a stress-related illness.

Here are five things about the Princess:

1. She had a miscarriage in 1999

After six years of marriage, Princess Masako became pregnant at the age of 35.

There was much pressure for her to not only bear a child, but a son, who would have been the first male to be born into Japan's imperial family since 1965.

This baby boy would also have been second-in-line to the Chrysanthemum Throne, after his father Prince Naruhito. Under a 1868 law, only males can inherit the throne.

A Japanese newspaper reported on Dec 10, 1999, that Princess Masako was showing "early indications" of a pregnancy, sparking a media frenzy.But weeks later, royal officials announced that she had a miscarriage.

2. She gave birth to the couple's only child in 2001

News reports rumoured that fertility treatments helped the Princess to conceive. She gave birth to a daughter, Aiko, in December 2001 - two years after her miscarriage.

She was then 37, and her husband, 41.

They named their daughter Aiko, which means "love child".

Princess Masako was reportedly in tears when she talked about her child during a press conference. "When I saw my newborn baby brought close to my chest, I was filled with appreciation for her being born," she said. "I can still see the scene right in front of my eyes."

Prince Naruhito has also been quoted as saying: "First of all, as parents our foremost wish is for Aiko to grow up to be a happy person. We want her to grow up to be a person who loves others and has an open heart and is considerate of others. That is why we think that what is most important is for us, as parents, to give her all the love that she needs."

Aiko is now 12.

3. She battled depression and exhaustion

After the joyous birth of her daughter, however, Princess Masako started having panic attacks and was said to be depressed in 2002. She also made fewer and fewer appearances, even for official events.

October 2003 marked her last imperial banquet, which she attended in honour of the Mexican president.

In December 2003, she was hospitalised after a stress-related shingles attack.

The Guardian, in a report in February 2004, quoted her as saying: "Since my marriage more than 10 years ago, I have tried to do my best under huge pressure in an unfamiliar environment. But I have a feeling that the bout of shingles resulted from the accumulation of mental and physical fatigue during this time."

In an interview in February 2004 with the BBC, Prince Naruhito said his wife was exhausted from royal life and its pressures. He also said that she was suffering from the burden of motherhood, her official duties and the need to produce a son.

In July 2004, royal officials announced that the Princess had a "stress-induced adjustment disorder."

Since then, her public appearances have been few and far between.

4. She got better in recent years

In 2012, she apologised for her absence from public life and spoke about her stress-related illness. She said that she was receiving treatment, and was aware that her condition had caused much worry.

She said she was hopeful of her own recovery, "with the help of my doctors and the other people around me".

In April 2013, after a personal phone call from Queen Maxima of The Netherlands, Princess Masako accompanied her husband on an official visit there to attend King Willem-Alexander's inauguration. This marked her first official trip abroad since a 2002 journey to Australia and New Zealand.

In June 2013, around the time the royal couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary, they released a statement to say that the Princess would be resuming a more active role in official events.

On her 50th birthday in December 2013, the Princess said she would continue her efforts "to make a full recovery" from her illness.

"I feel strong gratitude towards the many people who helped me get to where I am now," she wrote in a public statement. "I would like to continue my efforts towards my recovery while receiving help from people around."

5. Her husband, her faithful supporter

Prince Naruhito has been her most faithful supporter. He told the media to give them their privacy, and had even spoken out against the imperial household for "denying Masako's career and personality".

In 2000, the Princess wrote this poem about her husband: "With my husband as my guide through these seven years, our words of the heart grow deeper with each passing day."

Apart from leaning upon her husband's devotion, the Princess has also found solace in her dogs, Akitas Pippi and Mari. Mari died sometime in 2009.

In 2003, when she was already struggling with depression and panic attacks, she said that living with the dogs "always calmed and rejuvenated my spirit".

Although bogged down by her illness, she made time to be there for her daughter, especially when Aiko was bullied in school when she was eight years old. She accompanied her daughter to school after hearing about the bullying, and for a few years after that, would frequently accompany her back from school.

brynasim@sph.com.sg

Sources: bbc.co.uk, theguardian.com, biography.com, factsanddetails.com, worldcrunch.com, tumblr.com, hellomagazine.com, wsj.com, theroyalforums.com, asahi.com