Is she or isn't she? Japan stays baffled
A report that Crown Princess Masako is at last pregnant has been followed by a mysterious silence, writes Richard Lloyd Parry
Sunday 19 December 1999
Princess Masako, wife of Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito, was pregnant after six years of marriage. The breakfast news bulletins were full of it, and by the time the evening editions recycled the story it had been through the mill of the daytime chat shows too. But the weekend passed with nothing new to report, and by Monday, the media were getting edgy.
Cameramen in helicopters strained for a glimpse of the couple as they travelled to the hospital, and floor plans were displayed showing the route they would take to the examining room. Finally, Kiyoshi Furukawa, Grand Master of the Crown Prince's Household, appeared. After sternly calling for journalists to respect "the human rights" of the couple, he made his announcement, the worst news of all in such a situation. "At present," he said, "we are not at a stage where we can announce whether or not the Crown Princess is pregnant."
Japan's Imperial "millennium baby" had disappeared before our eyes, and nobody understands why. The story, based on leaks from unnamed officials in the Imperial Palace, seems to have been accurate - after six years of marriage, 36-year-old Princess Masako appeared to have good news. A urine test had indicated that she was expecting - even Mr Furukawa admitted "other medical symptoms which indicate she may be pregnant".
Last Monday she had ultrasound tests, which for a woman five weeks pregnant should have provided confirmation. Why, then, the reluctance to make an announcement one way or the other?
The Tokyo rumour machine has not been slow in supplying theories, for there is a lot at stake, and not just for the Japanese media. All royal brides are under pressure to produce heirs, but Princess Masako, a former diplomat, educated at Harvard and Oxford, has suffered more than most. For a start, she has married into a family with an acute shortage of men: the Crown Prince's younger brother is the youngest male in the family, and he is 34.
Under current succession laws, and despite several historical Empresses, women cannot succeed to the throne. Every year, the Crown Prince gives a press conference on his birthday, and every year the issue is raised. "I am afraid too much disturbance could upset the stork's mood," he said in 1994. This year, he was earnest. "I fully recognise people's interest in this, and the importance of the matter," he said.
One theory has it that the Imperial Household Agency, which controls every aspect of the Imperial lives, is simply trying to cool things down with the intention of confirming the pregnancy when the Crown Princess has passed the vulnerable eight-week stage. In the traditional Buddhist calendar Monday was an inauspicious day, inappropriate for big announcements. But wilder rumours, retailed in private by Japanese journalists last week, concern the possibility that something has gone wrong - a miscarriage, perhaps, or even a birth defect, possibly as a side-effect of fertility treatment.
Another line of thinking has it that the story originated in the office of Japan's Prime Minister, Keizo Obuchi, who leaked it to provide some relief from bad news about Japan's struggling economy. On being asked about the story, he urged his people to "wait quietly", but admitted that "if [it] is true, it is a cause for celebration". The agency, it is speculated, is furious, and is allowing him and his friends at the Asahi to stew for a while.
Palace officials have promised further "appropriate tests at an appropriate time". The reporters have gone from in front of the palace, the TV choppers are back at their helipads. Whatever is really going on, the subject has dropped abruptly out of the news, which may turn out to be no bad thing. As Princess Masako's mother told doorstepping journalists: "I have heard nothing myself, but it if it turns out not to be true I will feel very sorry for my daughter."
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 5 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
Ian Brady: Moors murderer announces his support for Ukip and the SNP
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
Bali Nine executions in Indonesia: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford says she 'just wants to get it over with'
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
£44000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Marketing company based in cent...
£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Installation / Commission...
£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Bridgend based software de...