Monday, February 19, 2007


A Review of Ben Hills' "Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Crown"

As a fan of Princess Masako, I was so happy a book had finally been written about her life that I actually pre-ordered my copy. I was anxious to learn more about this diplomat who gave up her career with the Japanese Foreign Service to become Crown Prince Naruhito’s Princess. Unfortunately, the writer to take on this task was the Australian Ben Hills. The tone of the book is shockingly irreverent, passages are littered with slang and curse words and Mr. Hills is constantly mocking the people in his book, including his sources. I am not certain why a man who could fail to see even the beauty in Masako-sama’s gorgeous, traditional wedding costume (choosing instead to focus on her stilted walk under the weight of the garments) would take on the task of trying to write the story of one of the nations most beloved cultural symbols. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, thinking perhaps he might be unaware that little girls throughout Japan display dolls wearing this elaborate dress every year on Girls’s Day, however later in the book he made reference to these O-hina-sama, proving that he was just out to be cruel. Sadly, there are also several references to Japan’s seedier side included in the book. All nations have their blemishes, however this book was not the place to point them out, especially when they were entirely unrelated to Princess Masako. It is as if Mr. Hills was unable to produce enough substantial content and so he resorted to muckraking in a failed attempt to make the book interesting. I continued my way through the book simply because I had paid for it. Surprisingly, I am glad that I did (finish it, not pay for it). The last three chapters of the book were interesting. The tone changes, the content improves and I actually learned something - even a few things about Masako-sama. Still, it was not enough to redeem the first seven chapters. I do believe that there is an amazing story to be told in Princess Masako’s life, a sad story even. I just do not feel that Mr. Hills has told it. Perhaps the only way the story will ever be told is if the Princess, herself, is allowed to write it.

I've been really curious about this book so really appreciate your review of it. I think I may wait till I can either borrow a copy off of someone else or find it in a library. Unfortunately, I probably will be able to borrow it from my mother. . . she and my father have managed to find almost every irreverant and unflattering novel/nonfiction book written about Japan! Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough review. Like you I am an admirer of Masako-san.
People should read this.
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