Princess Kiko can do no wrong these days.
Since bearing a male heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne last week, she has been extolled as a model wife, a paragon of motherhood and even a national symbol of courage.
The cheerful princess, who gave birth to a boy by Caesarean section on Sept. 6, is strikingly different than the image painted of Crown Princess Masako, with her highly publicized troubles of adjusting to palace life.
The contrast between the two princesses has even prompted some people to declare that Princess Kiko and her husband, Prince Akishino, have now trumped older brother Crown Prince Naruhito and the Crown Princess in the Imperial pecking order.
“Crown Prince and Prince Akishino reverse the fraternal hierarchy,” declared the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine 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. “Crown Princess Masako has definitely not adjusted well and Kiko has adjusted perfectly.”
The differences between the two princesses go way back.
Kiko and Akishino, college sweethearts, married in 1990 after a five-year courtship. The Crown Princess, meanwhile, a Harvard-educated career diplomat, made the Crown Prince wait two months after his first proposal for a reply.
After their 1993 marriage, the Crown Princess came under severe pressure to produce a male heir to the throne. She suffered a miscarriage in 1999, had a daughter, Princess Aiko, in 2001, then fell into a stress-induced depression that still keeps her away from most public duties.
Princess Kiko, in the less-pressured role as wife of Emperor Akihito’s second son, appears to have thrived — in the media spotlight as well as at the palace. The conservative Yomiuri Shimbun last week reported how she carried out her duties even when pregnant with her first child.
The differences between the couples were accentuated when the Crown Prince, in a rare public display of candor, criticized court officials at a news conference in 2004 for restricting the Crown Princess’ activities.
A few months later, Prince Akishino publicly broke with his brother, telling reporters he and the Emperor were surprised by the Crown Prince’s remarks and that the he should have consulted with their father before speaking out publicly.
The drumbeat of praise for Princess Kiko has steadily risen with her pregnancy, and hit fever pitch last week after she delivered the one thing that Princess Masako hasn’t: a male heir to the throne.
Many conservatives had high hopes for a boy, since the Imperial family had not had a boy since Prince Akishino was born in 1965. Princess Kiko’s child is now third in line to the throne behind Crown Prince Naruhito and Prince Akishino.
In some ways, the difference in the two princesses’ images reflects conservative values.
The Crown Princess is often portrayed as headstrong and unwilling to make the appropriate sacrifices for the good of the Imperial family, while Princess Kiko gets high marks for her gentle demeanor and devotion to her husband’s family.
“Princess Kiko today has grown so dependable,” the Mainichi Shimbun said in an editorial Sept. 6. “Being a princess must be her perfect lifetime career.”
While Princess Kiko’s stock has risen sky-high, many people still have sympathy for the Crown Princess, saying she has had to bear much more responsibility.
Some were hoping that the birth of a boy and the easing of the succession crisis would take some of the attention away from her.
“I don’t think there is a great difference between Princess Kiko and Crown Princess Masako, but if there is any, it is the pressure that Princess Masako has felt,” said Chikako Nishida, 33, a housewife and mother.
“I’m sure that pressure has now been relieved.”
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