Japan’s Crown Princess Masako has said she feels “insecure” about assuming the role of empress next year amid an ongoing battle with stress-related illness, in comments that provide a rare window into the emotional pressures faced by the country’s royal family.
In a candid statement to mark her 55th birthday on Sunday, Masako vowed to do her best to fulfill her duties when her husband, Crown Prince Naruhito, succeeds his 84-year-old father, Akihito, to the throne in April 2019.
“Thinking about the days to come, I feel insecure how helpful I can be,” she said. “I would like to devote myself to support his highness the Crown Prince and to make an effort for the happiness of the people,” Masako said.
“I would like to continue efforts for improving my health and devoting myself to public duties as much as I can participate.”
Masako married Naruhito in 1993, abandoning a high-profile career as a diplomat for life in the conservative royal household.
But the demands of imperial life have proved difficult for Masako, who has long battled with an illness doctors have described as an “adjustment disorder.”
Masako, who lived abroad as a child and was educated at Harvard University, had previously faced pressure to provide a royal heir to the throne. Her daughter, princess Aiko, is forbidden from becoming empress by Japan’s male-only succession law.
Though Japan’s royal family has a much lower public profile than some of the world’s other monarchies, the emperor remains a revered figure within Japan.
As head of the world’s oldest surviving monarchy, Emperor Akihito will be the first monarch to abdicate in more than 200 years. The last monarch to abandon the throne was Emperor Kokaku in 1817 in the later part of the Edo Period.
Akihito is believed to be abdicating due to his advanced age and the pressures of the job.
In a rare televised address in 2016 — only the third time a Japanese emperor has addressed his people since 1945 — Akihito said if his health worsens he fears he will not be able to fulfill his duties. Many people took that as a plea by the emperor, asking the Japanese government to change the law so he could step down.
Japan’s Parliament changed the law shortly after the public address to allow Akihito to abdicate.