Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako marked their 20th wedding anniversary Sunday just months after the Crown Princess, who has been suffering a stress-induced illness, carried out her first official overseas trip in 11 years.
“In the past 20 years, we have experienced many things as a couple together and supported each other,” the Crown Prince said in a statement released on the occasion of the anniversary of his 1993 marriage.
Touching on his 49-year-old wife’s health, the Crown Prince, 53, said she is “getting better” and “will expand her activities slowly by taking time to do the things she can and continue to make efforts toward her recovery.”
The Crown Princess, like Empress Michiko a commoner before marriage, gave up a career as a diplomat to enter the Imperial family. She continues a decade-long battle against an adjustment disorder due to stress arising from her status.
In July 2004, the Imperial Household Agency first announced the diagnosis of her condition, after she suspended all her official duties in December 2003 following a bout of shingles.
The Crown Prince said in the statement released by the couple that the past two decades were characterized by joyous events such as the achievements of Japanese athletes in the Olympics and Paralympics and Japanese Nobel Prize laureates, as well as hard times caused by natural hazards such as the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.
“We hope from the bottom of our hearts for reconstruction efforts to move forward without further delay,” he said, voicing hope that people of all generations will tackle issues of society such as those related to the elderly, children, energy and the environment.
In recent years, the Imperial family was exposed to media speculation of a family rift after the Crown Prince’s bombshell comments in May 2004 in relation to his ailing wife.
He said in a news conference that year before his trip to Europe, “It is true there were developments that were regarded as denying her a career and going against her personality.”
The Crown Prince’s joy in seeing improvement in her health was visible when the couple traveled to the Netherlands in April to attend Prince Willem-Alexander’s coronation.
Since her attendance was not certain until the last minute, a source close to the agency said the Crown Prince must have been “exceptionally happy” to be able to attend the affair together.
Still, the agency tried to put things into perspective with guarded optimism, indicating that being able to do one thing does not necessarily mean the Crown Princess can now resume all her duties.
Imperial family watchers say the Crown Princess had suffered from striking a balance in upholding the ideal of the Imperial family as ambassadors of international goodwill and meeting public expectations of producing a male heir to the throne.
In December 1999, after being married seven years, she suffered a miscarriage. However, in December 2001, she gave birth to a girl, Princess Aiko.
By late 2002, the Crown Princess was well enough to travel overseas. But not long afterward her stress-induced illness worsened and the Crown Prince had since traveled abroad alone.
The couple also had to deal with a challenge facing Princess Aiko, now 11, who was absent from school in February 2010 after expressing anxiety about attending. The princess, now in the sixth grade, has since returned to school life.
While committed to his lifetime work of research in water-related issues, the Crown Prince shrugs off criticism he is putting too much priority on the welfare of his family, especially his wife.
In his now-famous proposal line to the Crown Princess in 1992, the Crown Prince said, “You might have fears and worries about joining the Imperial household but I will protect you with all my might.”
The Crown Prince seems to be sticking to his promise to protect his wife at all costs, and a friend close to him believes his patience will be the key to her eventual recovery.
Crown Prince in Spain
The Crown Prince left for Spain on Monday to attend a series of events to mark the 400th anniversary of bilateral exchanges.
During his trip to the country, his sixth, which will last through June 16, Crown Prince Naruhito will attend a banquet hosted by Spanish Crown Prince Felipe while meeting with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Although Crown Princess Masako was also invited, she refrained from accompanying the Crown Prince as she is receiving treatment for a stress-induced illness.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of a mission dispatched by feudal lord Date Masamune to Spain in 1613.