After cancer, Aiko rode on the emperor’s helicopter: he had changed in five years

What a difference a couple of years makes. Back in July 2016, as the 47-year-old emperor took his controversial annual field trip to the bustling Tokyo seafood market by helicopter, Aiko AKA Hisako, his youngest daughter, was undergoing chemotherapy for a rare blood disorder at Princess Mako’s private institution.

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Aiko, as she is known to the rest of the world, is now 20 and has made a full recovery. On Saturday, she joined her other two daughters at an afternoon tea service that has become one of her favorite social occasions.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Office of Education, which runs the school, said the event had “filled everyone’s hearts”.

Aiko, who was born and raised in Tokyo, had been among the country’s most famous crown princess since her father ascended the throne in 1989, but in June 2015 her life took a turn for the worse. During a family visit to Kyoto, she suffered a pulmonary embolism after suffering from acute aplastic anemia, a blood disease that results in a persistent lack of red blood cells. Mako, who is 27, helped care for her for several months.

Aiko had fought through outpatient cancer treatment to become a healthy teenager, just as the imperial household becomes more complicated as the eldest princess, Mako, 28, begins to ascend the throne.

Mako is one of four children of Crown Prince Naruhito, a man 44 years younger than her father, whose own three children, aged between seven and 16, died in infancy or infancy due to a rare blood disorder.

But just a few months after that death, the emperor decided that Mako’s eldest sister, Hisahito, 16, should be his heir.

She was born in 2005 after the birth of Mako’s younger sister, Kako, who was married to a US businessman in 2015. Her maternal grandfather is the late Emperor Hirohito, who lost his throne after the end of the second world war and was later convicted of war crimes by an international court.

Daughters of the imperial family face conflicting pressures. Other royal children are expected to be obedient to their fathers, but are still deeply concerned that they may eventually be usurped. The honour of becoming an imperial family member is surely second only to being crowned in accordance with the law. But the eye of the media bears down on Aiko since she cannot marry outside the palace as Mako can because the only boys allowed into the imperial family are members of her grandfather’s order, the Tokugawa shogunate, which was the governing body during the period of Imperial Japanese rule.

When Herahito is one of the country’s youngest sovereigns, Mako is expected to ascend the throne by then. She is seen as the future successor to the role currently held by her father, the Emperor Akihito, who is 82. If, as expected, Akihito abdicates the throne in favour of Mako or his other daughter, 25-year-old Mako Muto, next year, Japan could have its first female emperor and crown princess for the first time since 1889.

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