Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Japan's empress turns to prayer to cope

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's Empress Michiko, the first commoner to marry into the world's oldest monarchy, says she has turned to prayer to cope with stress and at times wished she could be invisible to enjoy life more.
The 72-year-old's remarks, unusually candid by the standards of the Japanese royals, come after she took nine days of rest and relaxation in March to recover from physical problems related to mental stress.
"I have caused you to worry but I am well now," she told a news conference late Monday ahead of a 10-day trip with Emperor Akihito to Europe next week.
"I wish to accompany His Majesty by taking care of my health so that I may accomplish my duties without hindrance by his side," she said.
Citing a Japanese folk tale, the empress said she wished she had a straw cloak to become invisible so she could go to Tokyo's used-book shops and "once again take my time browsing."
On March 6, the palace said Michiko needed a break from official duties because she was suffering nasal and intestinal bleeding as well as inflammation in her mouth, symptoms attributed to stress.
Michiko is not the only member of the tradition-bound imperial family known to have become ill from stress.
Crown Princess Masako, 43, a former career diplomat who married Michiko's eldest son Naruhito in 1993, has shunned most public appearances since 2003 as she struggles with depression amid pressure on her to produce a male heir.
But the empress, the daughter of a flour milling magnate, stopped short of saying she also felt pressure.
"After I got married and entered a new life, I may have spent days feeling how difficult a certain position can be amid the many demands and expectations," she said.
"But I don't think I have ever seen it as something described by one word, pressure," she said. "That said, I have always felt sad and sorry for being unable to fully meet expectations and demands from people."
Without elaborating, she said there was "one incident at one time" which posed a challenge.
"It was quite a great challenge for me to get by each and every day with sorrow and anxiety," she said, adding there were times when she "prayed and muttered some childish magic words" when she found it hard to cope.
Michiko, who was raised a Christian, said she had come to consider such emotions to be a "reward, solace and encouragement."
The empress is known to have suffered from stress when she was younger, once losing her voice for months.
In the 1960s, her stress was blamed on the intense media scrutiny given to her as a newcomer to the imperial family, which is widely revered in Japan.
Emperor Akihito, 73, said his consort had worked hard over the years, including when he underwent prostate cancer surgery.
Asked what they would want to do if they could go unnoticed in public, the emperor recalled he had a "very free and pleasant time" at the 1953 coronation of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, which he attended as "one of many people there."