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Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne

3.23  ·  Rating details ·  625 ratings  ·  117 reviews
It's the fantasy of many young women: marry a handsome prince, move into a luxurious palace, and live happily ever after. But that's not how it turned out for Masako Owada. Ben Hills's fascinating portrait of Princess Masako and the Chrysanthemum Throne draws on research in Tokyo and rural Japan, at Oxford and Harvard, and from more than sixty interviews with Japanese, Ame ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published December 28th 2006 by Tarcher (first published 2006)
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Average rating 3.23  · 
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 ·  625 ratings  ·  117 reviews


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Amy
Sep 15, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, especially if you don't know much about Japan's imperial family. Certainly, Masako has a sad story that is generally kept hush-hush. But I had a lot of problems with it. First, the author presents a lot of his own assumptions as fact, saying things like, "We can surely assume he was thinking xxx..."

I also noted many factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations. The author talks about the Harvard campus as if it is some sort of lawless crazy town (with ALCOHOL!), when really it's pret
...more
Leslie
I have nothing but sympathy for this woman. I lived in Japan during the years she was refusing him, and I remember both the anxiety over his refusal to marry anyone else and the euphoria when his younger brother married a pretty young woman, though that marriage increased the pressure on the heir to marry. God, who would be a royal? It seems like a really shitty gig to me. No wonder she so emphatically didn't want it. But here she is, trapped and miserable in a life she never wanted. In the deca ...more
Mandy Tanksley
To begin, I must admit that I have spent a great deal of my time soaking up Japanese culture which has little to do with my heritage. I have read countless articles about the subject of Crown Princess Masako and the of the struggle to find the next in line for the throne. That being said, I was looking forward to reading this book. My hope was to gain more insight on the life of Princess Masako and life in the palace. If that is what you're looking for, but have studied enough Japanese history a ...more
Louise
Mar 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan, biography
While the title and focus is Princess Masako, the book is really an introduction to and an analysis of the Japanese royal family. Author Ben Hills, describes its position in Japan and how it compares and contrasts with the remaining reigning monarchies in the world. The author has done a lot of homework and has produced a highly readable book.

Perhaps the closest comparison to Masako's situation would be Princess Diana, but as Hills points out, this is not even close. Diana was able to choose her
...more
May
Apr 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
Fascinating subject matter but rather boring in its execution. Part of the problem is that the author doesn't get a good handle of Masako's character. I never get the sense of her as a real person in Hill's writing. She is simply portrayed as a highly educated but aloof individual who may or may not have been in love when she married her prince. I say this because the author repeatedly points out how much he was in love with her and made her all of these promises (e.g. shielding her from the med ...more
Janis
Apr 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
This is not a great book by any imagination--and it was full of the author's imagination with little fact to back it up. It's true that no one can get close enough to the Japanese royalty to get any real facts and his guesses seemed reasonable, it still bothered me that the author esteemed his own opinion so highly. A LOT of speculation and conjecture. His writing is erratic and the timelines hard to follow. I did enjoy reading about some of the royalty history and about Masako's youth and life ...more
Midori
Apr 03, 2019 rated it did not like it
While the author wrote: "Masako was stripped of all of her freedom and now lives like a bird trapped (yes trapped!) in a gilded cage." He is only presenting his side of the story ( and they may not even be based on facts, just his assumptions!) I would like the author to answer a few questions, these questions have been raised by many times by local Japanese people. Princess Masako is a commoner, so is her sister in law and the wives of the cousins. Why the other women did not lock themselves up ...more
Books on Asia
May 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: japan
This is one of the strangest books. Kudos to the author for all the research, travel and interviews which must have taken a lot of time and effort to obtain and which were very thorough. He also can be, quite obviously, an excellent writer. But the first 100 pages of this book was absolutely torture. I found myself ending each reading session in a bad mood. The problem, for me, was that the book bordered on sensationalism and the author put too much of his own bias into his prose. He was critica ...more
Shirleen
Dec 18, 2008 rated it liked it
I rate this book 2 stars for content, 3 stars for interest. The book is about Crown Princess Masako, married to Crown Prince Naruhito. Much of the information in this book was acquired second hand and at times has a somewhat loose tabloid feel to it. This is understandable since it’s virtually impossible to obtain info on the secretive life of the Japanese royalty. The thing that bothers me about this book is the author’s blatant prejudice against the life and culture of the Japanese royalty. I ...more
M.M. Strawberry Library & Reviews
Many parts of this book read like a tabloid. Yes, Masako doesn't have a very easy life. She had already rejected a marriage proposal from Haruhito, but later on she capitulated, and as such, had to give up the free life she led as a diplomat. It's hard to not feel bad for her when you think about her former lifestyle and the kind of life she leads now, especially with her breakdowns. I do wish that the Diet would change the rules of succession so that primogeniture would be equal, rather than ma ...more
Christina
Feb 03, 2018 rated it liked it
This story is an excellent justification for abolishing the whole idiotic notion of royalty. The Japanese imperial system took in an intelligent, well-educated, ambitious woman and then crushed her. Masako has had to endure an even more soul-sucking experience than Princess Diana did. She can't even go to lunch with friends until her elderly gatekeepers vet the invitees and set the date. All she has been permitted (and expected) to do is reproduce. It's no surprise that she has been miserable.

T
...more
Helen
And you thought Princess Diana had it bad. Hills cobbles together a picture of both Masako Owada and Prince Naruhito before their courtship and marriage using interviews with as many people as he can get access to - mostly academics and and a handful of childhood acquaintances.

The revelation that 74 out of 100 young Japanese women interviewed said they would never entertain the notion of marrying Naruhito or another royal flies in the face of so many Western girls who want to grow up to be a pr
...more
Mary Ellen
Dec 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating account of Japanese royalty and the extreme to which one woman and her family were forced to sacrifice to maintain the hereditary line. Unquestioned acceptance and a unbending bureaucracy maintain a costly Japanese tradition. That being said I felt that the author was determined to make such a case and perceived Japan from his own cultural lens too strongly. I sensed, perhaps incorrectly, that a love story may be hidden in Princess Masako's portrayal.
Julie
Nov 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
In light of the recent enthronement, I found this very interesting. I hope the author does a followup of how she is doing. What an accomplished woman with an amazing education-- the perfect empress. Pity the palace doesn't think so. No matter, I hope that she is able to carve out her place with her husband, the new emperor, and continue to be his perfect helpmate. A true love story, which was lovely and refreshing.
Bronwyn C Rideout
Oct 12, 2017 rated it liked it
An interesting read but ultimately too polite in its investigation of how the Princess is perceived by longtime staff members of the royal household. I wonder if reading a biography about Masako's brother-in-law may present more insight. I would also be interested in reading any addendum's now that Masako is starting to go out in public more frequently.
Pauline
May 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
An interesting read on an unknown culture to me. Really feel for Masako. For a modern, educated professional woman to have to adapt to the submissive demands of an ancient medieval culture could only lead to mental pressures......enjoyed the read.

Uthpala Koralegedara
Jun 18, 2019 rated it did not like it
Definitely written by someone who has a bone to pick about Japan and its culture. At times it read like a cheap tabloid. Some insight to Japan and her people but wish the author was more respectful of other people’s beliefs and traditions.
Casey Caduff
Feb 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Fascinating insight into Japan's imperial history, and the traditions surrounding the royal family. The depressing yet gripping story of the Princess (as of 2019, Empress) Masako, told through well-researched, yet pretentious writing.
Jessica Harn
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Originally banned in Japan, this is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the modern Imperial house of Japan
Saumya
Mar 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Fascinating story. But I found it somewhat absurd to read writer’s own assumptions as facts. It seems he doesn’t have a clear picture of any of his characters not even princess Masako.
Elaine
Nov 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: japan
Interesting because of the subject matter, since it's about Her Imperial Highness, but otherwise the author's writing seems just a bit too casual and speculative.
Eilagh
Sep 02, 2019 added it
This was an interesting read, a little dated now but enough information to imagine the stress of high places. Historically this may be more appropriate to the future of this dynasty.
Nandina

If Cinderella happily ever after since married a prince, the opposite happened with Princess Masako, suffering for ever. Reading this book, I could feel the sadness and depression of being wife of Crown Prince, the burden as a wife of Japanese Imperial Palace in the modern era.

Masako is intelligent woman, skilled 6 languages, athletic, play some musical instruments, live in many countries since childhood, school at Harvard and then had a brilliant career. With her foreign insight and expertise
...more
Anne Charlotte LE DIOT
Apr 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan-essays
Difficult to write a book about people when they as primary source of info are so far off limits, and their access is even forbidden... Could Masako ever read it ?

I thought Ben Hills did quite a good job, in these circumstances. He interviewed a lot of people who knew the couple before their fate was sealed with this marriage, and even some who are still in touch with them. Under heavy constraints, and one can guess probably not without retaliation in some cases, he enables the reader to pictur
...more
Alyn
the book is was written in a style suited for 'foreigners' who are interested in the last reigning imperial family of Japan. The society of Japan is extremely different: very rigid, conservative, encroaching even on one's personal freedom; so I chose to read this book with a very open mind.

the story is centered on Masako Owada, the Princess Di of Japan. She is fluent in 6 languages, lived abroad for almost half her life and studied in prestigious schools like Harvard and Oxford.

Out of her great
...more
Elaine
Oct 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The life of this Janpanese princess makes that of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, sound like a picnic and not torture at all. Masako, a brilliantly educated and studious woman finally agreed to marry the Crown Prince, who loved her for years before she finally relented and accepted his proposal. The palace life of this person who should be the next Empress of Japan has been controlled by those who shape the Japanese royal family and has been so stifling that her falling into deep depression i ...more
Heidi
This is a book that I've looked at countless times at airport bookstores, but have never actually bought. (Hurrah for libraries!) I'm glad I've read it, but also (I think) glad I didn't buy it. Some of the other reviews on Good Reads talk about the padding in this book, but I actually found the digressions and background information very interesting. Hills is decidedly not writing for a Japanese audience, and is most decidedly writing for an Australian audience (I don't know if this book has fou ...more
Amanda
Jul 29, 2008 rated it did not like it
Princess Masako's story is an inherently interesting one. She speaks multiple languages fluently, has lived all around the world, was educated at Harvard, Oxford, and Tokyo Universities, and had an extremely prestigious career before she gave it all up and married Naruhito, the crown prince of Japan. Now she is rarely, if ever, seen, and anything we hear about her seems to suggest that she has become a little more than a prisoner of ancient, patriarchal customs within the palace walls.

So how the
...more
Amanda
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I skim read most of this book after the first 100 pages.

There were several things that I had issues with:
> there are a lot of speculations and some of the sources for the facts are questionable - this is understandable due to the secretive nature of the royal family. But I would recommend that you only report what you know rather than speculate. it reads more like a gossip mag than a non fiction book.
> the chapters are not chronological - jumping back and forth in no logical order makes it ext
...more
Kathi
Jan 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
An interesting look inside the Japanese Royal Palace & the Japanese Crown Princess Masako who married into the family 16 years ago. The Japanese Royals lives are lived very secretively not only from the media, but also from the people of Japan. They don't live lives anything like the ones lived by European royals nor does the media have access to them as they do in Europe. Prior to Masako's marriage she was a very career driven, hard-working diplomat with an under-grad degree from Harvard & a gr ...more
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Ben Hills is a Walkley Award winning Australian investigative journalist and author.

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