Isolation breeding discontent?

Crown Prince, Crown Princess living in Imperial cocoon

Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary Wednesday amid an atmosphere of chilly isolation.

“There is no one around the couple who they can rely on and open their hearts to,” said an old acquaintance after the Crown Prince made unusually candid remarks about his wife’s problems in May.

During a May 10 news conference held before he left on a European trip, the Crown Prince said, “It is true that there are developments that denied Masako’s career as a diplomat as well as her personality.”

The Crown Princess, who was a career diplomat before she married the Crown Prince in 1993, was unable to accompany her husband to Europe as she is suffering from stress and a host of other health problems, including shingles, a painful viral condition.

In a statement Tuesday aimed at explaining what he had meant to say at the news conference, the Crown Prince said his wife hopes to resume her official duties after regaining her health, adding that he intends to fully support her to this end.

“What I wanted to convey to everyone at the news conference was about the situation we have been facing and about the future,” he said in the statement, which was released by Imperial Household Agency chief Toshio Yuasa.

The couple live at the Crown Prince’s palace, about 2 km west of the Imperial Palace, where Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko live.

About 100 people live with the young couple, including four chamberlains to the Crown Prince and as many ladies-in-waiting to the Crown Princess, forming a unique world in which they are on alert 24 hours a day.

But according to sources, there is no old-timer who can teach the Imperial family’s customs to the Crown Princess, while those at the Crown Prince’s palace are a group of “amateurs” sent from government ministries and agencies.

“Since the Crown Princess and ladies-in-waiting do not know the etiquette for events at the Imperial palace, they have often received advice from attendants to the Emperor and Empress,” one source said.

People suitable to act as attendants at the Crown Prince’s palace cannot easily be found, and it was only on June 1 that someone was named to oversee the education of the couple’s 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Princess Aiko.

The couple’s environment is not one in which they can easily consult their parents about their problems.

Their messages to the Emperor and Empress are always conveyed through the chamberlains and ladies-in-waiting, and there are no telephone conversations between the two couples, the sources said.

Opportunities for them to have direct conversations are limited only to private dinners without the presence of attendants and few others, but these occasions are rare because of their busy schedules, the sources said.

They said that chamberlains and ladies-in-waiting are “supporters of official duties,” and that the couple can only consult a few friends and teachers about their concerns. They added that the number of opportunities for the couple to talk to these people has decreased year after year.

According to the sources, the Emperor and Empress were shocked by their son’s remarks about his wife and are worried that escalating media coverage might have an unfavorable impact on her health.

The sources said the Crown Prince, perplexed by media coverage even after his return from Europe on May 24, has been hesitant to meet Yuasa and has remained silent.

The Crown Princess, who has been undergoing treatment for her stress-related illness for six months, rarely goes out, and when she does, she only takes a stroll in the palace garden, the sources said.

“We want to join hands in trying to recover (the Crown Princess’) health after the commotion calms,” a person close to the couple said. “But much more time may be required.”