• The Associated Press

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Crown Prince Naruhito said his wife has become exhausted from the pressures of royal life, motherhood and media scrutiny over the couple’s lack of a male heir, and asks that she be left in peace.

The Crown Prince, who turned 44 on Monday, blamed the media for its role in those pressures with unusually direct comments during a birthday news conference.

Crown Princess Masako has kept a low profile since she was hospitalized for a few days in December for herpes zoster, commonly known as shingles. The popular 40-year-old princess said last month her health had deteriorated because of intense mental and physical strains from being in an unfamiliar environment.

The Harvard graduate who gave up her promising Foreign Ministry career to marry the Crown Prince in 1993 occasionally has alluded to the difficulties of adjusting to royal life. She had a miscarriage before giving birth to a daughter in 2001 — eight years into the marriage.

Pressure to produce a male heir has continued, the Crown Prince said at the Togu Palace in Tokyo, where the couple live with 2-year-old Princess Aiko.

“Fortunately, our child was born, and then two months later she (Masako) returned to her official duties. But amid her official duties and child-rearing, along with the effort of addressing the media’s various demands, her exhaustion accumulated,” he said. “The pressure to have another child was also heavy.”

The news conference was held Thursday, but reporters were asked to hold the remarks until Monday.

Princess Aiko is Emperor Akihito’s third granddaughter. Her birth initially led to much official hand-wringing over whether a girl can be second in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne. A postwar law limits Imperial succession only to men.

“As for having an heir, we fully realize the importance,” the Crown Prince said. “But I hope she can spend time quietly, without pressure from her surroundings.”

It will be some time before Masako resumes her duties, he said, adding that he wanted to give her more freedom to go outside their palace.

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