Crown Princess Masako celebrated her 55th birthday on Sunday, 9 December 2018, in Japan.
The Imperial Household Agency released new photos on 4 December, taken at Tōgū Palace, to mark the Crown Princess’s birthday.
The Crown Princess has said, in a statement, she will do her best, despite feeling ‘insecure’ about becoming empress next year.
A Diplomat’s Daughter
She was born Masako Owada on 9 December 1963 at Toranomon Hospital in Tokyo, the eldest daughter of a senior diplomat and former International Court of Justice president Hisashi Owada and Yumiko Egashira.
The Crown Princess has younger twin sisters, Setsuko and Reiko.
As the daughter of a diplomat, Masako has lived in Russia and the United States where she attended preschool and kindergarten.
After returning to Japan, Masako attended the same private girls’ school as her mother and grandmother, where she learnt to play the piano and tennis, joined a handicrafts club, learning French and German, played softball and became interested in animals. She had planned to become a veterinarian once she finished school.
Her family moved back to the United States in 1979 where she finished high school and enrolled at Harvard University in 1981 to study economics.
Following her graduation, Masako moved back to Japan to study law at the University of Tokyo to prepare for the rather difficult Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ entrance examination.
A Royal Romance
Masako first met Crown Prince Naruhito at a reception for Infanta Elena of Spain (King Felipe VI’s sister) in November 1986 and, according to reports, he was rather smitten.
However, Masako was not very keen on giving up her career in the foreign service so she declined his first two proposals for a restricted life within the Imperial Family.
She completed further study at Oxford University’s Balliol College for two years but she did not complete her thesis.
As the old saying goes, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’, so Crown Prince tried again a third time on 9 December 1992 and this time she accepted.
Some reports said the Crown Prince had said serving as Crown Princess would be another form of diplomacy.
The Imperial Household Council formally announced the engagement on 19 January 1993, with the engagement ceremony held on 12 April 1993.
They married in a traditional wedding ceremony on 9 June 1993.
The Crown Princess miscarried her first child, following an announcement in December 1999.
Their surviving daughter, Aiko, Princess Toshi, was born 1 December 2001 at the Imperial Household Agency Hospital in Tokyo Imperial Palace.
There were plans to change the male-only law of Imperial succession but they were scrapped when the Prince and Princess Akishino produced a son, Prince Hisahito, who is now third in the line of succession to the throne.
The Crown Princess has suffered from various health ailments including shingles in December 2003 and mental health issues, including Adjustment Disorder, where she made few public appearances.
Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in June 2013.
They will become Emperor and Empress when Akihito abdicates on 30 April 2019.
Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako visited Australia and New Zealand in 2002.
They also attended many royal weddings, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands to Maxima in 2002, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark’s wedding to Australian-born Mary Donaldson in May 2004 and King Felipe VI of Spain to Letizia, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden in 2010 and the Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg.
They were honoured guests at King George Tupou V’s coronation in Tonga in 2008 and his younger brother King Tupou VI in 2015.
The Crown Prince and Crown Princess returned to the Netherlands for King Willem-Alexander’s investiture ceremony in 2013.