Empress Masako

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Empress Masako at TICAD7.jpg
The Empress in 2019
Empress consort of Japan
Tenure1 May 2019 – present
Enthronement22 October 2019
BornMasako Owada (小和田雅子)
(1963-12-09) 9 December 1963 (age 57)
Toranomon Hospital, Toranomon, Tokyo, Japan
(m. 1993)
IssueAiko, Princess Toshi
HouseImperial House of Japan (by marriage)
Owada clan (by birth)
FatherHisashi Owada
MotherYumiko Egashira

Masako (雅子, born Masako Owada (小和田雅子, Owada Masako); 9 December 1963) is the Empress of Japan (皇后, kōgō) and the consort of Emperor Naruhito, who ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 2019. Masako, who was educated at Harvard and Oxford, had a prior career as a diplomat.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Masako Owada (小和田雅子, Owada Masako) was born on 9 December 1963 at Toranomon Hospital in Toranomon, Minato, Tokyo.[2] She is the eldest daughter of Yumiko Egashira (b. 1938) and Hisashi Owada (b. 1932), a senior diplomat and former president of the International Court of Justice. She has two younger sisters, twins named Setsuko and Reiko (b. 1966).[3]

Masako went to live in Moscow with her parents when she was two years old, where she attended Detskiy Sad (kindergarten in Russian) No. 1127 daycare.[4] At the age of five, Masako's family moved to New York City, where she attended New York City public kindergarten No. 81.[5]

In 1971, the Owadas returned to Japan, moving in with Masako's maternal grandparents in Meguro while Hisashi returned to the Foreign Ministry office.[6] She entered Futaba Gakuen, a private Roman Catholic girls' school in Den-en-chōfu, Tokyo.[7] Established by the Congregation of the Holy Infant Jesus in 1872, Masako's mother and maternal grandmother had graduated from this school as well.[7] It was here that Masako learned to play piano and tennis, joined a handicrafts club, and became interested in animals, tending several after school and deciding to become a veterinarian.[8] Masako also studied her fourth and fifth languages, French and German.[9] With a school friend, Masako revived Futaba's softball team, serving as third base and after three years bringing her team to the district championships.[10]

In 1979, her second year of senior high school, Masako and her family moved to the United States and settled in the Boston suburb of Belmont, Massachusetts, where her father became a guest professor of international law at Harvard College's Centre for International Affairs.[11] In 1981, she graduated from Belmont High School, where she was president of the National Honor Society[12] and participated in the school's math team and French club.[11] Masako joined the school's softball team and won a Goethe Society award for her German poetry.[11] Masako participated in a production of M*A*S*H.[11]

Masako enrolled in the Economics Department of Harvard University/Radcliffe College in 1981.[13] When her father received a posting in Moscow after her high school graduation, it was decided that Masako would stay in Boston to attend school under the guardianship of her father's Harvard friends Oliver and Barbara Oldman.[14] At Harvard-Radcliffe Masako became chair of the school's Japan Society, "became quite close friends with the then Japanese consul in Boston, and volunteered as a kind of self-appointed diplomat and cultural ambassador"[15] in the wake of mounting Japan–United States trade tension. Masako liked to ski and traveled overseas during vacations, staying with a host family in France and studying at the Goethe-Institut.[14] Masako is fluent in English and French, which she learned in 1983 at the University Center for French Studies at Université Grenoble Alpes.[16] Masako worked with Jeffrey Sachs to obtain a B.A. magna cum laude in economics in March 1985.[17]

Professional career[edit]

After graduation Masako moved back to Japan, where for six months (April to October 1986) she studied law at the University of Tokyo to prepare for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs's entrance examination.[18][19] Out of 800 applicants only 28 passed;[19] Masako was one of them, along with two other women.[19][20]

"She was assigned, first, to the oddly named Second International Organizations Division which deals with Japan's relations with international agencies, such as the OECD, a club of 30 rich countries committed to free trade and development. Her assignments included dealing with the OECD's environmental affairs committee ... by all accounts she acquitted herself well—her command of spoken languages, so rare in Japan, was a huge advantage—and was popular with most of her workmates."[21] During her free time, Masako attended cooking classes to, according to interviews with her instructor, "be able to cook proper Japanese dishes when she was entertaining [foreigners]."[22]

Two years later, in 1988, Masako was chosen by the Ministry to be sponsored for two years' postgraduate study overseas with full pay, just as her father Hisashi had been years earlier.[23] Masako "desperately wanted to go back to Harvard to do her master's". According to her former Harvard adviser Oliver Oldman, she "tried to re-enroll to work towards ... a Juris Doctor. However, Harvard's bureaucrats would not give her credit for her study-time at the University of Tokyo."[24] Therefore, Masako enrolled in her second choice, studying International Relations under Sir Adam Roberts[25] at Balliol College, Oxford.[26] However, for unclear reasons Masako did not finish her thesis[27] and instead returned to Japan in 1990.

Courtship and marriage[edit]

The newly married Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako in Japanese traditional attire, with the Prince wearing a sokutai, the Princess a jūnihitoe, 1993
A 500-yen coin issued to commemorate the Imperial Wedding

Masako first met Prince Naruhito at a tea for Infanta Elena of Spain, in November 1986,[28][29] during her studies at the University of Tokyo. The prince was immediately captivated by her[20][30] and arranged for them to meet several times over the next few weeks.[31] Because of this they were pursued relentlessly by the press throughout 1987.[3][32] However, Masako's name disappeared from the list of possible royal brides due to controversy about her maternal grandfather, Yutaka Egashira, who while working for the Industrial Bank of Japan was assigned to take over management of one of its creditors the Chisso Corporation to prevent it from financial collapse.[33] Chisso, built in the 1930s, dumped the methylmercury used to make acetaldehyde (a chemical in plastic) into the water surrounding Minamata and other towns, causing the infamous Minamata disease and the resulting scandal.[33]

Despite this controversy and Masako's travelling to Oxford University's Balliol College for the next two years, Naruhito remained interested in her. Masako refused to marry the prince because it would force her to give up her promising career in diplomacy and severely restrict her independence and freedoms.[20] Masako finally accepted his third proposal on 9 December 1992.[20] It was reported that he argued that serving as Crown Princess of Japan would only be "another form of diplomacy" before she finally accepted this third proposal.[34] The Imperial Household Council formally announced the engagement on 19 January 1993; the engagement ceremony was held on 12 April 1993. Although many were surprised at the news, as it was believed that the prince and Masako had separated, the engagement was met with a surge of renewed media attention directed toward the Imperial family and their new princess.

Masako married Crown Prince Naruhito in a traditional wedding ceremony on 9 June 1993.[35] By virtue of the marriage, Masako Owada assumed the formal style Her Imperial Highness The Crown Princess of Japan. As tradition dictates, upon her entry into the imperial family and like other members, she received a personal emblem (o-shirushi (お印)): rosa rugosa (hamanasu (ハマナス)). In addition, she was placed in the Japanese Imperial Order of Precedence (used for the most formal occasions) behind her mother-in-law, Empress Michiko, and her grandmother-in-law, Empress Dowager Nagako. The orchid flower Dendrobium Masako Kotaishi Hidenka was named in her honour to celebrate the wedding.[36] She became the third commoner to marry into the imperial family, after her mother-in-law and her sister-in-law, Princess Kiko.

Naruhito and Masako marked their 20th wedding anniversary in June 2013.[37]


Naruhito and Masako, with their daughter Aiko, in Tochigi Prefecture in 2019

Masako's first pregnancy was announced in December 1999, but she miscarried.[13]

The Emperor and Empress have one daughter: Aiko, Princess Toshi (敬宮愛子内親王, Toshi-no-miya Aiko Naishinnō, born 1 December 2001 at Imperial Household Agency Hospital in Tokyo Imperial Palace).[38][39]

Succession crisis[edit]

Their daughter's birth, which occurred more than eight years after their marriage, sparked lively debate in Japan about whether The Imperial Household Law of 1947 should be changed from that of agnatic primogeniture to either cognatic or absolute primogeniture, which would allow a woman to succeed to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

A government-appointed panel of experts submitted a report on 25 October 2005, recommending that the Imperial Succession Law be amended to permit absolute primogeniture. On 20 January 2006, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi used part of his annual keynote speech to address the controversy when he pledged to submit a bill to the Diet letting women ascend to the throne in order that the imperial throne be continued in a stable manner. Koizumi did not announce a timing for the legislation to be introduced nor did he provide details about the content, but he did note that it would be in line with the conclusions of the 2005 Government Panel.

Plans to change the male-only law of Imperial succession were shelved after it was announced in February 2006 that Masako's brother-in-law and his wife, Prince and Princess Akishino, were expecting their third child. On 6 September 2006, Princess Akishino gave birth to a son, Hisahito, who was third-in-line to the Chrysanthemum Throne under the current law, after his uncle, the Emperor, and his father, Prince Akishino.[40][41][42]

Crown Princess of Japan[edit]

Masako, as Crown Princess

In 1994, the couple visited Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. They visited Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan in 1995, and again traveled to Jordan in 1999.[43] In 1999, they also went to Belgium to attend the wedding of Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant.[43] In 2002, they paid a visit to New Zealand and Australia.[43] In 2006, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess went to the Netherlands with their daughter, Princess Aiko, at the invitation of Queen Beatrix for a private visit.[44]

Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako attended the JET Programme 30th Anniversary Commemorative Ceremony at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo, November 2016

On 30 April 2013, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess were present at the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, which was the Crown Princess's first official overseas appearance in eleven years.[45][46][47] In October 2014, she was present at a banquet held in honour of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima at the Tokyo Imperial Palace, which was her first appearance in such a ceremony in eleven years.[48] She welcomed the couple during an official ceremony at the palace which was her first appearance in a welcoming ceremony after five years.[48] In July 2015, Princess Masako traveled to Tonga with the Crown Prince in order to attend the Coronation of King Tupou VI. Over 40 members of the Japanese media covered the event, during which the happy-looking Crown Princess was warmly welcomed.[49]

Empress of Japan[edit]

Empress Masako wearing the jūnihitoe at the enthronement ceremony in October 2019

Upon the abdication of Emperor Akihito on 30 April 2019, Crown Prince Naruhito became the 126th Emperor of Japan, and Masako became empress consort. The new Emperor and Empress were enthroned (Sokui Rei Seiden no Gi) at the Tokyo Imperial Palace on 22 October 2019.


Masako has periodically been out of the public eye, largely between 2004 and 2014,[50] reportedly due to emotional disorders speculated to be caused by the pressure to produce a male heir and adjusting to life in the Imperial Family.[51][52] In July 2004, she was diagnosed as suffering from adjustment disorder and was reported to be seeking treatment.[53][54][55]

On 11 July 2008, Naruhito sought public understanding for his ailing wife. He was on an eight-day trip to Spain without her:[56] "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." Pressures to produce a male heir, to conform with the ancient traditions and a 1947 Imperial Household Law are perceived to be behind her illness, as well as negative media coverage of her behavior, the stress of royal responsibility and public life, and turf battles among the Imperial Household Agency.[57][58]

In December 2012, at the time of her 49th birthday, Masako issued a statement thanking the Japanese people for their support and saying that she was still receiving treatment for her illness.[59] The Japanese Constitution does not allow the members of the Imperial Family to engage in political activities. Naruhito made controversial comments about discourtesies and pressures placed on his wife by the Imperial Household Agency and his wife's desire to pursue the life of a diplomat.[60]

In 2019, Masako accompanied her husband at official events and at his accession ceremonies. During the state visit of President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump to Japan in April she and Naruhito conversed with them without interpreters. Her doctors however have stated that she has not fully recovered but a strong sense of duty has helped her fulfill her responsibilities.[61] Reports from an unnamed palace source close to the family reported that her daughter Princess Aiko provides Masako with emotional support in her new role as empress.[62]

Titles, styles and honours[edit]

Imperial Standard of the Empress

Titles and styles[edit]

  • 9 December 1963 – 9 June 1993: Miss Masako Owada (小和田雅子 Owada Masako)
  • 9 June 1993 – 30 April 2019:
    • Her Imperial Highness The Crown Princess of Japan (皇太子妃殿下 Kōtaishi-hi Denka)
    • Her Imperial Highness The Crown Princess Masako (皇太子徳仁親王妃雅子殿下 Kōtaishi Naruhito Shinnō-hi Masako Denka)
  • 1 May 2019 – present: Her Majesty The Empress of Japan[63] (皇后陛下 Kōgō Heika)



  •  Japan:
    • JPN Hokan-sho 1Class BAR.svg Grand Mistress and Grand Cordon (Paulownia) of the Order of the Precious Crown
    • Red Cross Order of Merit (Japan).svg Dame of the Decoration of the Red Cross
    • Red Cross Order of Merit (Japan).svg Recipient of the Red Cross Medal


Honorary positions[edit]


Her father Hisashi is descended from the Owada clan, whose head Shinroku—Masako's 4th-great grandfather[70]—was called to Murakami in 1787 to serve the Naito clan that the Tokugawa shōgun had installed as the city's rulers 67 years earlier.[70] After the fall of the shogunate, the Owadas participated in a salmon-fishing cooperative,[71] the proceeds of which provided schooling for many local children, including Hisashi and his father Takeo.[71]

Her mother Yumiko is descended from the Egashira clan which served the Saga clans near Nagasaki on the island of Kyushu. One of the Egashiras, Yasutaro, went on to command a battleship in the Russo-Japanese War.[2] Yumiko's father was a wealthy banker who was at the time of her marriage the managing director of the Industrial Bank of Japan.[72]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Empress Masako: The Japanese princess who struggles with royal life". BBC News. 2019-05-01. Retrieved 2021-01-24.
  2. ^ a b Hills, p. 40.
  3. ^ a b Sanz, Cynthia (21 June 1993). "The Princess Bride". People. 39 (24). Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  4. ^ Hills, pp. 42–44.
  5. ^ Hills, p. 45.
  6. ^ Hills, p. 46.
  7. ^ a b Hills, p. 48.
  8. ^ Hills, p. 49.
  9. ^ Hills, p. 50.
  10. ^ Hills, p. 52.
  11. ^ a b c d Hills, p. 92.
  12. ^ Green, Michelle (25 January 1993). "Princess Bride: Oft Rejected, Japan's Crown Prince Gets a 'Yes' from a Harvard Grad". People. 39 (3). Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  13. ^ a b "Royal life takes its toll on Japan's crown princess". China Daily. 2 August 2004. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  14. ^ a b Hills, p. 95.
  15. ^ Hills, p. 101.
  16. ^ cuef.univ-grenoble-alpes.fr, Masako Owada
  17. ^ Hills, pp. 106–107.
  18. ^ Sato, Mariko (19 May 2009). "Princess Masako: Weight of Imperial world on Princess Masako". The Japan Times. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  19. ^ a b c Hills, p. 115.
  20. ^ a b c d "Princess Masako Biography". Biography.com. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  21. ^ Hills, p. 116.
  22. ^ Hills, p. 119.
  23. ^ Hills, pp. 137, 155.
  24. ^ Hills, pp. 152–153.
  25. ^ Hills, p. 139.
  26. ^ Hills, p. 155.
  27. ^ Hills, pp. 140–141.
  28. ^ AOL. "AOL Style News, Trends and Advice".
  29. ^ Hills, p .120.
  30. ^ Hills, pp. 120–121.
  31. ^ Hills, p. 123.
  32. ^ Hills, p. 136.
  33. ^ a b Hills, p. 133.
  34. ^ Green, Michelle (25 January 1993). "Princess Bride: Oft Rejected, Japan's Crown Prince Gets a 'Yes' from a Harvard Grad". People. 39 (3). Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  35. ^ Hills, p. 2.
  36. ^ "Orchid 5. Dendrobium Masako Kotaishi Hidenka". PBase.com. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  37. ^ "Crown Prince and Princess celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary". Japan Times. 10 June 2013.
  38. ^ "Girl Born to Japan's Princess". The New York Times. 1 December 2001. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  39. ^ French, Howard W. (8 December 2001). "Japan: A Name For The Royal Baby". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  40. ^ "Japan princess gives birth to boy". BBC News. 6 September 2006. Retrieved 6 September 2006.
  41. ^ Walsh, Bryan (5 September 2006). "Japan Celebrates: It's a Boy!". Time. Archived from the original on May 13, 2007. Retrieved 16 November 2011..
  42. ^ Yoshida, Reiji (27 March 2007). "Japan's Imperial Family: Life in the Cloudy Imperial Fishbowl". The Japan Times. FYI (weekly column). Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  43. ^ a b c "Their Imperial Highnesses Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako". kunaicho.go.jp. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  44. ^ "List of Overseas Visits by the Emperor, Empress and Imperial Family (1999 – 2008)". The Imperial Household Agency. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  45. ^ "Japan's Crown Prince and Princess attend the coronation of the new Dutch king". japantimes.co.jp. May 2013. Retrieved 8 May 2013.
  46. ^ "The Crown Prince and Princess depart for Netherlands". japantimes.co.jp. 29 April 2013. Retrieved 8 May 2013.
  47. ^ "The Crown Prince and Princess return from Netherlands". japantoday.com. Retrieved 8 May 2013.
  48. ^ a b "Japan Crown Princess Masako attends first banquet in 11 years". BBC News. 30 October 2014. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  49. ^ "Crown Princess Masako unexpectedly joins meeting with Japanese in Tonga". The Japan Times. 6 July 2015. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  50. ^ "Japan's Princess Masako opens up on insecurities and health". BBC. 9 Dec 2018.
  51. ^ "Japan princess makes rare solo public visit". Agence France-Presse. 2 March 2009. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  52. ^ Lewis, Leo (5 February 2008). "Tabloids turn against the Crown Princess Masako". The Times. London. Retrieved 16 November 2011.[dead link]
  53. ^ "Royal wives seek new role in monarchies". China Daily. 13 July 2004. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  54. ^ "Princess trapped by palace guard". BBC. 3 February 2006. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  55. ^ Sakamoto, Mie (14 June 2008). "'Imperial diplomacy' proves elusive dream". The Japan Times. Kyodo News. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  56. ^ "The sadness behind the Chrysanthemum Throne". The Independent. London. 22 May 2004.
  57. ^ "Japan's crown prince seeks public understanding for ailing princess". GMA News and Public Affairs. Associated Press. 11 July 2008. Archived from the original on 22 May 2011. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  58. ^ Schreiber, Mark, "Japan's troubled royals put up a brave front", Japan Times 1 January 2012, p. 13.
  59. ^ "Japan's Crown Princess Masako discusses her illness on 49th birthday". Daily Telegraph. 10 Dec 2012.
  60. ^ Cameron, Deborah (24 February 2005). "Airing wife's troubles a turning point: prince". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  61. ^ Yamaguchi, Mari (8 December 2019). "Japan Empress Turns 56, Still Recovering Her Mental Health". U.S. News & World Report. New York, New York. Retrieved 26 November 2020.
  62. ^ Ogata, Yudai; Nakada, Ayako (1 January 2019). "Support from Aiko, public behind Masako's new confidence". The Asahi Shimbun. Tokyo. Retrieved 26 November 2020.
  63. ^ "Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress - The Imperial Household Agency". www.kunaicho.go.jp. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  64. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question about the Decoration of Honour" (PDF) (in German). p. 1299. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  65. ^ "Hungarian Journal, State Gazette issue 64, 2000. june 23" (in Hungarian). p. 3830.
  66. ^ "Semakan Penerima Darjah Kebesaran, Bintang dan Pingat Persekutuan".
  67. ^ "Cidadãos Estrangeiros Agraciados com Ordens Portuguesas" (in Portuguese). presidencia. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  68. ^ Boletín Oficial del Estado
  69. ^ "Empress Masako conducts 1st official duty in new capacity". Kyodo News. 22 May 2019. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  70. ^ a b Hills, p. 33.
  71. ^ a b Hills, p. 35.
  72. ^ Hills, p. 39.


External links[edit]

Japanese royalty
Preceded by Empress consort of Japan