Japan empress hopes princess's health recovers

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TOKYO, Oct 20 (Reuters) Japan's Empress Michiko, who suffered a bout of stress-related illness earlier this year, said she hopes her daughter-in-law recovers from her own ailment which has kept her out of the public eye for years.

Crown Princess Masako has withdrawn from most of her official duties for more than three years because of a stress-induced mental illness, blamed by many royal watchers on pressure to bear a male heir.

Masako and her husband, Crown Prince Naruhito, have one child, 5-year-old Princess Aiko, who cannot inherit the throne under the current males-only succession law.

In comments issued on her 73rd birthday today, Michiko said she wanted to ''watch quietly over'' Masako and Naruhito.

''Now that she seems to be on her way to recovery, which for me is such a joy, I would simply like to continue praying for the full recovery of the Crown Princess,'' she said.

The plight of Masako, a Harvard-educated former diplomat, is often compared to that of Michiko, who broke tradition in 1959 when she became the first commoner to marry an heir to the throne.

Michiko won popular acclaim with her hands-on method of bringing up their three children, but suffered repeated bouts of ill health rumoured to have been caused by the demands of the powerful courtiers who organise the lives of the royal family.

Michiko fell ill as recently as March with symptoms of intestinal bleeding in what the Imperial Household Agency said was a likely sign of stress.

She has since recovered and made a 10-day trip to Europe with the emperor in May. She said she currently enjoyed seeing her four grandchildren.


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