Depressed Princess Eats Truffles; Nation Freaks

While Britney Spears gathers her wits about her from the comfort of a padded room, the future Empress of Japan, Crown Princess Masako, is the target of tabloid reports and grave disappointment in the Far East. Why? Because she went out to dinner. According to the Times of London, the Princess recently had Mexican food, a plate of black truffles and a bowl of shark-fin soup. Explains another Times newspaper (this one in New York), this behavior violates "the standards of imperial austerity as the economy shows signs of faltering." So there are two issues here: Firstly, the 44-year-old Harvard-educated princess was diagnosed with depression four years ago. Second, Japan, like the United States, is on the verge of a recession. So while a plate of truffles might not seem like a big deal, the Japanese feel she is wasting public money, living the "high life" when she won't even make public appearances due to her "condition."

The UK's Times claims that the Japanese consider the Princess to be a failure: She did not produce a male heir (she has a daughter - the horror!) and has been too ill to perform her duties. But commenters on the paper's website paint a different picture: "I wonder... Why she could go out for dinner at a posh restaurant on the same day she cancelled a ceremony held by the emperor - she could stay home if she was too unwell to attend the ceremony," writes Kyoko. Adds someone identified only as a "Japanese citizen" :"It seems lots of Westeners believe Masako is a poor victim of the old-fashioned custom just because she is Harvard-educated and Japan is too old-fashioned. The point is not her education, but her strange behavior and her mysterious illness. She has been 'ill' for years and skip [sic] official duties, but her private life is very energetic. Lots of expensive shopping, lavish dinners, Disney Land, trip to Netherland, skiing, horse riding, etc on taxpayer's money."

Does a public figure — even when suffering psychologically — have a responsibility to her public? Is a depressed person not allowed to eat truffles? Is Japan old-fashioned, or merely practical? And can anyone explain to us what all the fuss is about?

Japan: Princess Becomes Fair Game [New York Times]
Tabloids turn against the Crown Princess Masako [Times]
Princess Masako's 'High Life' Shocks Japan [Telegraph]