Masako's strain began to show on official visits, such as this December 2002 trip to Australia
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"Over the next two years, many gestures – including Aiko's visit to her maternal grandparents' home, captured on film – indicated a new openness of approach on the part of the Japanese royal family. However, the Imperial Household's famous discretion re-emerged when Masako suddenly disappeared from public view later that year.
Although Masako was believed to be recovering, months passed with no public appearances on her part. In early April 2004 the palace confirmed Masako had decided not to attend the events she was scheduled to participate in that month, adding that it could not say when she would return to official duties.
A mysterious illness, later revealed by the palace as shingles, led to the crown princess' week-long hospitalisation in December 2003. A month later, amid concern for her well being provoked by her lack of public appearances, Masako admitted in a rare statement that she was suffering from "fatigue".
"Since my marriage more than ten years ago, I have tried to do my best under huge pressure in an unfamiliar environment," she said. "But I have a feeling that the bout of shingles resulted from the accumulation of mental and physical fatigue."