Princess Masako of Japan was born Masako Owada on December 9, 1963, in Tokyo, Japan, to Ambassador Hisashi Owada and Yumiko Owada. She has twin younger sisters, Reiko and Setsuko. Her father is a career diplomat who served as administrative vice minister of foreign affairs and Japan’s representative to the United Nations. As a child, Masako is remembered by her friends as a quiet, though strong-willed, leader who stood up to her teachers when she felt there was an injustice. She loved animals and sports, and once thought about becoming a veterinarian. Princess Masako was a star athlete, instrumental in organizing her high school’s girls softball team.
When her father accepted a teaching position at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the family moved to nearby Belmont. After the position ended, Masako stayed on to attend Harvard. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Economics. In 1986 she attended the University of Tokyo’s law department to study for the Diplomatic Service Examination. Princess Masako passed the notoriously difficult Foreign Ministry entrance exam after only one year of study (most people need at least two years, and even then only a small percentage pass), and joined the Foreign Ministry in 1987.
Meeting the Crown Prince Naruhito
At a reception for Spain’s Princess Elena in Tokyo in 1986, Masako was introduced to the Crown Prince Naruhito. He became immediately enamored and began courting her. Masako, however, was not particularly interested in the prospect of a royal life, which she no doubt suspected would severely restrict her independent nature, and the promising career she had worked hard for. Instead of immediately accepting the prince’s proposal, she began a two-year study at Oxford as part of an assignment from the Foreign Ministry.
Marriage and Demand for an Heir
After the third time the proposal was extended, Masako at last relented, and married the crown prince in 1993 in a traditional ceremony. Many Japanese women who had followed the long courtship had admired Masako’s independence, and hoped that her presence in the royal family would be an opportunity for more progressive changes within the rigid Imperial Palace.
These hopes for the new crown princess failed to materialize, however. Seldom in the public eye outside of official engagements, Masako led a largely quiet royal life, wearing conservative clothes and walking behind her husband in public. Speculation grew that the stifled princess was suffering from depression, a result of her restricted lifestyle and the intense pressure she was under to bear an heir to the throne.
In 1999, Masako became pregnant, but then miscarried. She conceived again—possibly with the help of fertility treatments—and the royal couple welcomed a daughter, Aiko, in 2001. However, according to Japanese law, only a male descendant of the royal family can take the throne, so Masako still faced pressure to give birth to a son.
Masako had to be hospitalized for shingles in 2003, a condition that was attributed to the stress she continued to experience. She stayed out of the spotlight for many years, dealing with a series of health problems. In 2006, Naruhito’s younger brother, Prince Akishino, and his wife, Princess Kiko, had a son, Hisahito. Prince Hisahito became a royal heir, which lessened the pressures on Masako.
Renewed Royal Role
In 2012, Masako acknowledged that she had been battling a stress-related illness for a long time and apologized for her absence from public life. The princess said in a statement that she had been receiving treatment and was aware that her condition had “caused so much worry,” according to a report in the Telegraph newspaper. Masako explained that she was getting better and hoped her condition would continue to improve “with the help of my doctors and other people around me.”
The following April, Masako joined her husband on an official visit to the Netherlands. This was her first official trip abroad since a 2002 journey to Australia and New Zealand. In June 2013, the royal couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary, and released a statement that said Masako expected to resume a more active role in official events in the years to come.
- Crown Princess Masako Biography and Profile (Biography)