Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne
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Disappointing portrait of Japan’s enigmatic princess, offering few new insights.

When career diplomat Masako Owada finally agreed to marry Crown Prince Naruhito, the Japanese public was thrilled. Smart, beautiful Princess Masako was supposed to be Nippon’s answer to Diana Spencer. In unexpected ways, she is: The royal marriage, like that of Charles and Di before it, has never been a bed of roses. Australian journalist Hills follows the line that most Western reporters have taken. In his view, the Harvard-educated princess, accustomed to being her own woman, has had an extremely difficult time adjusting to the strict restrictions placed on Japanese royalty. (Masako has to receive permission to travel and even to see her family.) These strains were exacerbated by fertility problems, and when the princess finally did give birth, she failed to produce an heir to the throne; the baby was a girl. The stress culminated in 2004 with Masako’s withdrawal from public life to nurse a debilitating depression. Hills’s prognosis for the princess is bleak. “One by one [Masako’s] friends and family will drift away,” he predicts, and “she will live to regret” marrying into royalty. Only the book’s final 100 pages directly address the royal marriage itself; the first two-thirds introduce Masako and Naruhito and summarize their courtship. Hills was not granted an audience with the royal couple, and much of his information feels third-hand; interviews with Masako’s teachers at Harvard hardly seem like the inside scoop. The author employs a good bit of guesswork and plenty of phrases like, “One can only imagine the debate which must have gone on.” The quaint euphemisms scattered throughout the text don’t help either. Rather than go into labor, for example, the princess “felt her time had come.”

Perhaps the best that can be expected, given the media’s lack of access to the princess, but certainly not the rich, dishy immersion into Masako’s life that interested readers await.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 1-58542-568-0
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Tarcher/Penguin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2006