Observers often liken Crown Princess Masako to Britain's Princess Diana. They both embody the fairy tale gone tragically wrong — women outside the royal circle wooed by the heir to the throne, only to end up clashing with the establishment and surrounded by controversy and speculation that has made them fodder for the media.

But the similarities end there. While Diana divorced Prince Charles aged 35 after 15 years of marriage in 1996, and enjoyed a life outside the palace until her untimely death a year later, her 45-year-old Japanese counterpart, now almost 16 years into her marriage to Crown Prince Naruhito, remains in the world's oldest dynasty, struggling with a stress-related disorder.

For many, the Crown Princess' marriage to the Imperial heir in June 1993 heralded a new era. She was the cream of the intellectual elite, fluent in several languages and a fast-rising diplomat in the Foreign Ministry. When she married Emperor Akihito's eldest son, many hoped her career would help enhance Japan's presence on the international stage.