• The Associated Press


Empress Michiko marked her 70th birthday Wednesday by urging palace officials to help her troubled daughter-in-law to recover from a stress-related illness.

Empress Michiko’s son, Crown Prince Naruhito, suggested earlier this year that Imperial officials contributed to Crown Princess Masako’s illness by attempting to “deny” her character. The Crown Princess, a former diplomat, has been largely out of public view since December.

“When a member of a family is suffering, it is a source of sadness for everyone in the family,” the Empress, wife of Emperor Akihito, said in a statement released Wednesday.

“I only hope that the staff of the Imperial Household Agency, and above all, the staff of the Crown Prince’s Household, will kindly continue to lend their support in bringing about the Crown Princess’ recovery.”

The Empress, however, stopped short of blaming palace officials for her daughter-in-law’s illness.

“Though the Imperial Household Agency faces a number of problems to be solved, for which their efforts are constantly required, I do not believe that they deserve all the insistent criticism that they have received in recent days,” she said.

The Crown Princess withdrew from official duties in December, and palace officials later announced she had a stress-related disorder and was receiving counseling and medication.

The Crown Prince said in May that a decade of palace life and pressure to produce an heir had left her exhausted, adding in an unusual swipe at officials that “there have been movements to deny Masako’s career and her character.”

The couple has a daughter, Aiko, but under succession laws only males are eligible to assume the throne.

The Empress, who is believed to have encountered difficulties herself in the palace as the first commoner to marry a crown prince in 1959, also referred to the pressure of Imperial life in her statement Wednesday.

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