Sat, Sep 09, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Japan Princess Kiko's popularity reaches new high


Japan's Princess Kiko can do no wrong these days. Since bearing a male heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne this week, she has been extolled as a model wife, a paragon of motherhood and even a national symbol of courage.

The mass adulation of cheerful Kiko, who gave birth to a boy by Caesarean section on Wednesday, has clashed strikingly with the image of Crown Princess Masako and her highly publicized troubles in adjusting to palace life.

The contrast between the two princesses has even prompted some in Japan to declare that Kiko and her husband, Prince Akishino, have now trumped his older brother Crown Prince Naruhito and Masako in the imperial pecking order.

"Crown Prince and Prince Akishino reverse the fraternal hierarchy," declared the Weekly Bunshun on Thursday, detailing how Kiko mixes cocktails for her husband's friends and keeps a close eye on her daughters' table manners.

"She's cheerful, she smiles, she doesn't look like she's thoroughly miserable," said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo.

"Princess Masako has definitely not adjusted well and Kiko has adjusted perfectly," he added.

The differences between the two princesses go way back.

Kiko and Akishino, college sweethearts, married in 1990 after a five-year courtship. Masako, meanwhile, a Harvard-educated career diplomat, made Naruhito wait two months after his first proposal for a reply.

After their 1993 marriage, excruciating pressure fell on Masako to produce a male heir to the throne. She suffered a miscarriage in 1999, had a daughter, Aiko, in 2001, then fell into a stress-induced depression that still keeps her away from most public imperial functions.

Kiko, in the less pressured role as wife of Emperor Akihito's second son, has apparently thrived -- in the media spotlight as well as at the palace. The conservative Yomiuri newspaper this week reported how she carried out her duties even when pregnant with her first child.

The differences between the couples were accentuated when Naruhito, in a rare display of imperial candor, criticized court officials at a news conference in 2004 for restricting Masako's activities.

Soon after, Akishino publicly broke with his brother, telling reporters he and the emperor were surprised by Naruhito's remarks and that the crown prince should have consulted with his father before talking publicly.

The drumbeat of praise for Kiko has steadily risen with her pregnancy, and hit fever pitch this week after she delivered the one thing that Masako hasn't: a male heir to the throne.

Many Japanese, especially conservatives, had high hopes for a boy, since the royal family had not produced a male heir since Akishino himself was born in 1965. Kiko's child is now third in line to the throne behind Naruhito and Akishino.

In some ways, the difference in the two princesses' images reflects conservative values in Japan, where women are traditionally expected to stay at home and care for their husbands and children.

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