Mental health issues show women bear the brunt of Japanese monarchy

This photo taken on July 11, 2021 at Akasaka Estate in Tokyo shows former Princess Mako, back right, with her family. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial Household Agency / Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) – Former Princess Mako’s diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder before her controversial marriage in October has once again highlighted the intense pressure women in the Japanese imperial family face, some other members also struggled with mental health issues. .

The former princess, 30, who is a niece of Emperor Naruhito, has come under close public scrutiny after learning that the family of her husband, the commoner, Kei Komuro, were involved in a financial dispute.

Her aunt Empress Masako, 58, has long struggled with a stress-induced illness linked to the pressure she was under to produce a male heir, while former Empress Michiko, 87, the mother of the emperor, became unable to speak for months amid weekly denigration. magazines following her husband’s accession to the throne in 1989.

Both the Empress and the Former Empress were commoners before their marriage to the then crown princes.

Under Japan’s 1947 Imperial Household Act, women are not eligible to ascend the throne, and female members of the Imperial family leave home by marrying a commoner.

While the former princess and Komuro finally tied the knot on October 26, more than four years after their relationship was made public, traditional ceremonies associated with a royal wedding have not taken place due to public unrest over money.

“It is as if there are no human rights (within the imperial family),” said clinical psychologist Sayoko Nobuta.

The Imperial Household Agency revealed ahead of the wedding that the former princess was diagnosed with complex PTSD caused by what she described as psychological abuse the couple and their families suffered.

Regarding the mental health of his daughter, Crown Prince Fumihito, brother of the emperor, stressed on the occasion of his 56th birthday in November the need to establish “criteria to refute” the erroneous information.

While the agency has exposed fake news in the past, debunking some reports on its website since 2007, it lacks a clear policy on how to handle these issues.

“Even though (former Princess Mako) has been ordered to ignore or not engage in online bashing, one cannot help but notice it in her daily life, and it will rock her heart. before he realizes it, “said Rika Kayama, psychiatrist and commentator on social issues.

The case of the former princess is just the latest in a history of mental problems plaguing the women of the imperial family.

In 2004, the agency announced that Empress Masako, then Crown Princess, was diagnosed with adjustment disorder after giving birth in 2001 to Princess Aiko, the only child between her and the Emperor. The Empress had canceled her official duties the previous year following a shingles attack.

The Empress, a former diplomat trained at Harvard and Oxford, gave up her career to join the Imperial family in 1993 after accepting a marriage proposal from the then crown prince, having initially declined the offer.

Many have speculated that a major cause of her stress was the pressure to produce a male heir, as no boy had been born into the Imperial family since Crown Prince Fumihito was born in 1965.

The situation calmed down after Crown Princess Kiko gave birth in 2006 to Prince Hisahito, 15, who now sits second to the throne.

But unlike former Emperor Akihito and former Empress Michiko, who typically engaged with the public as a couple, the current Emperor often performs official duties alone due to his wife’s condition, though it has gradually broadened the scope of its activities in recent years. .

Yet even the former Empress, who became the first commoner to marry an heir to the Imperial throne in 1959, has not been immune to pressures from the Imperial family.

After the former emperor’s accession to the throne in January 1989, she became the subject of a backlash in weekly magazines triggered by her cultivation of a more accessible image compared to her father, Emperor Hirohito. , who had ascended to the throne before WWII when emperors were still considered living gods.

On her 59th birthday in October 1993, the former Empress collapsed and lost her voice due to psychogenic aphasia.

“The emperor is the symbol of Japan and the monarchy is a symbol of patriarchy. Therefore, discrimination against women is more pronounced in the imperial family,” Nobuta said, adding that such an environment made it difficult the survival of brilliant women.

Nobuta said that former Princess Mako, who grew up watching these events and studied at the International Christian University in Tokyo as well as in Britain, must have thought that the only way to really live her life was to leave Japan.

“For former Princess Mako, escaping was her main goal, and I think she chose Komuro as the man who could help her achieve that goal,” Nobuta said.

The couple left Japan shortly after registering their marriage to start a new life in New York City, where Komuro works as a legal assistant at a law firm.

All eyes are now on Princess Aiko, who turned 20 in December and is now expected to perform official duties as a mature member of the Imperial Family.

The princess would be entitled to the throne if she was a member of the British or Dutch monarchy, both of which allow the eldest of the monarch’s children to be successful regardless of gender.

A government panel tasked with studying ways to ensure a stable imperial succession proposed Dec. 22 allowing female members who marry commoners to retain their imperial status.

But he postponed the conclusion as to whether women or Imperial members of the matrilineal lineage will be eligible to ascend the throne.

In the past, Princess Aiko has sparked concern and speculation among the public over her prolonged absence from school and strong weight loss at one point, but it remains to be seen whether the mental health issues that have plagued her the women of her family before her will repeat themselves. .

Hajime Sebata, associate professor of modern Japanese history at Ryukoku University, said building relationships with citizens through communication, not counter-arguments, is essential.

“If (the agency) regularly posts (information about the royal family) on social media and communicates, the public will eventually trust the imperial family even if there is criticism,” he said. .


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