Childhood & Early Years
Masako, Crown Princess of Japan was born as Masako Owada on 9 December 1963 at Toranomon Hospital in Toranomon, Minato, Tokyo. Her father, Hisashi Owada, was a senior diplomat, who served as administrative vice minister of foreign affairs and later as a judge on the International Court of Justice.
Her mother’s name is Yumiko Egashira. Masako was born eldest of her parents’ three daughters. She has twin sisters named Reiko and Setsuko who are younger to her. Because of their father’s diplomatic position, she spent a major part of her early years away from Japan.
Possibly in 1965, when Masako was two years old, she joined her father in Moscow, where he had been posted since 1963. It was here that the future princess began her education, attending Detskiysad No. 1127 daycare.
In 1969, the family moved to New York City, where Hisashi Owada served as Japan’s representative to the United Nations. Here she continued her education, attending New York City public kindergarten No 81 until the family’s return to Japan in 1971.
Back in Japan, they moved in with Yumiko Egashira’s parents in Meguro while her father rejoined his diplomatic duty. Here, she was made to sit for the entrance examination at Futaba Gakuen, a private Roman Catholic school where both her mother and grandmother were educated; but failed to secure admission.
After her failure at the entrance test at Futaba Gakuen, she was enrolled in two other schools, both of which she left within a span of few weeks. Ultimately, she was accepted by Futaba Gakuen. Her friends remember her as quiet, but strong-willed girl with leadership quality.
It was while studying at Futaba Gakuen that she learned to play the piano and became interested in handicraft. She also grew a love for animals, tending many of them after school. At one point, her ambition was to become a veterinarian.
Good in studies, she studied German and French as her fourth and fifth languages. Equally interested in games, she revived her school’s softball team with the help of a school friend and serving as third baseman, she helped to bring her team to the district championships within three years.
In 1979, as her father became a guest professor of international law at Harvard College's Centre for International Affairs, the family once again relocated to the USA. This time, they settled down in the Boston suburb of Belmont, Massachusetts, where Masako continued her schooling at Belmont High School.
Equally active in her new school, she involved herself with the school’s French Club and mathematics team, also winning a Goethe Society award for her German poetry. She also joined the school’s softball team and became the president of the National Honor Society.
In 1981, she graduated from school and entered Radcliffe College, the female coordinate institution for the all-male Harvard College, with economics. Sometime now, her father was transferred to Moscow and the family accompanied him to his new posting. Only Masako stayed behind to complete her education at Radcliffe.
While studying at Harvard-Radcliffe, she became chairman of its Japan Society. In addition, she started functioning as a self-appointed cultural ambassador, developing a close friendship with the Japanese consul in Boston. She also developed a passion for skiing and often traveled abroad. At one point, she also studied at Goethe-Institut.
In March 1985, she graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Economics from Radcliffe and then returned to Japan. Here in April 1986, she joined University of Tokyo’s law department, studying there till October, preparing for Japanese Diplomatic Service examination, passing the notoriously tough test in one go.
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In 1987, Masako Owada joined the Foreign Ministry. Her first assignment was at International Organizations Division, where she had to deal with the environmental affairs committee of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
On joining her position, Masako became very popular with her colleagues. The foreign diplomats also liked her a lot, possibly because of her command of foreign languages, which is rare in Japan. In order to showcase proper Japanese cuisine to foreigners, she also started attending cooking classes during this period.
In 1988, sponsored by Government of Japan, she entered Balliol College, Oxford, England, for her postgraduate degree in International Relations, continuing to receive her full salary during this period. However, for some reason, she returned to Japan in 1990 without completing the course.
Meeting the Crown Prince
In November 1986, while Masako was preparing for her Foreign Service examination in Tokyo, she was introduced to the Crown Prince Naruhito at a reception for Spain’s Infanta Elena, Duchess of Lugo. The prince was immediately captivated by her.
Over the next few weeks, they met several times. But there were hindrance on the way. The powerful Imperial Household Council disapproved of the match, not only because she was a commoner, but also because of a controversy involving her maternal grandfather. Ultimately, the Prince was able to convince them.
Masako herself was not very thrilled about marrying the Prince because she suspected it would interfere with her lifestyle and restrict her independence. Therefore, instead of accepting the Prince’s first proposal, she moved to England for her higher education. But the Prince remained steadfast in his intent.
In late 1992, the Prince succeeded in convincing Masako that in marrying him and serving as the Crown Prince of Japan, she would be undertaking a new level of diplomacy. Finally on December 9, 1992, she accepted his third proposal.
Their engagement was announced on 19 January, 1993 by the Imperial Household Council while the actual engagement ceremony was held on 12 April 1993. The ordinary citizens of Japan were overjoyed with the news.
Crown Princess of Japan
On 9 June 1993 Masako married Prince Naruhito in an ancient ceremony at the Imperial Shinto Hall in Tokyo, wearing in a 12-layer, 13-kilogram wedding kimono, while her commoner parents watched the ceremony on the television. The ceremony was followed by an afternoon reception at the Imperial Palace.
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After her marriage, Masako Owada assumed the formal title of ‘Her Imperial Highness the Crown Princess of Japan’. She also received her personal emblem and was placed behind her mother-in-law, Empress Michiko, and her grandmother-in-law, Empress Dowager Nagako, in the Japanese Imperial Order of Precedence.
Although many Japanese women had hoped that the Princess would be able to bring about drastic changes in the royal household it was not to be. She was forced to succumb to the tradition of the Japanese royal household, where women has just one role to play, which is to produce an heir.
As the Crown Princess, she spent most of the time away from public eyes and media attention, leading a quiet life in the palace. However, she was also required to attend a few official engagements, and when she did so she was expected to walk one step behind her husband.
During the first few years, she also made a few overseas visits. In 1994, the Crown Prince and the Princess visited Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. Next in 1995, they visited Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
In 1999, they once more made an official visit to Jordan and went to Belgium to attend the wedding of Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant. Later in December, her first pregnancy was announced. But it ended with a spontaneous abortion.
In 2001, she conceived for the second time, giving birth to her only daughter, Princess Toshi or Aiko. Since Japanese laws stipulate that only a male descendent can inherit the throne, the birth was a disappointment for many and she continued to face pressure to produce a male heir.
In 2002, the Crown Prince and Princess visited New Zealand and Australia. From around the same time, she began to suffer from an emotional disorder, which many believe developed because of the pressure to conform to ancient traditions and produce a male heir. She started being seen less in public.
In 2006, they made another overseas visit, going to the Netherlands for a private visit with their daughter, Princess Aiko, at the invitation of Queen Beatrix of Netherland. Thereafter, she was not seen publicly for some years.
Adjustment Disorder & Recovery
In July 2004, it was reported that Crown Princess Masako was diagnosed with adjustment disorder and was seeking treatment. Other than that nothing was heard about her.
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It was thought that she became ill not only because of the pressure to produce a male heir, but also because of negative media coverage of her behavior abroad. A 1947 Imperial Household Law as well as turf battles among the Imperial Household Agency also added to her woe.
True to his promise, the Crown Prince remained by her side. On 11 July, 2008, he announced, "I would like the public to understand that Masako is continuing to make her utmost efforts with the help of those around her. Please continue to watch over her kindly and over the long term."
By 2012, the Crown Princess was on a road to recovery. In December, she issued a statement thanking the Japanese people for their support. In it she also admitted that she was still under treatment; but was getting better with the help of her doctors and people around her.
Renewing Royal Duties
In 2013, the Crown Princess made her first official overseas appearance after a long gap, attending the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands on 30 April.
In June 2013, the couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. On this occasion, they issued a statement saying that the Crown Princess is expected to resume her royal duties and play a more active role in the official events in years to come.
In October 2014, she attended a banquet held in the honor of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima at the Tokyo Imperial Palace. Later she welcomed the couple during an official welcoming ceremony at the palace.
In July 2015, Princess Masako traveled with her husband to Tonga for the coronation of King Tupou VI. In November, she attended the Autumn Imperial Garden Party at Akasaka Imperial Garden after a gap of twelve years. Since then, she has been taking up her official duties on regular basis.