TOKYO (AP) – The crown princess, complaining of exhaustion, withdrew from her official duties seven months ago and hasn’t been seen in public since. This month, an American accused of deserting his Army unit 40 years ago was whisked out of North Korea and quickly admitted into a Japanese hospital, where he, too, has vanished behind a wall of government protection.

Then there’s chess legend Bobby Fischer, languishing in an airport detention cell and facing the possible deportation.

While these three may have very little else in common, they have become the embodiment of an age-old Japanese saying: if the pot smells, put a lid on it.

All have a potentially sensitive story to tell.

The princess has become the focus of a debate on palace reform. The alleged deserter, Charles Robert Jenkins, may have been forced into leaving his adopted home of North Korea to serve Japanese political goals. And Fischer is seeking asylum rather than be sent back to the United States, where he is wanted for violating sanctions against the former Yugoslavia more than a decade ago.

Shielded by officials, none has made any sort of statement, given a news conference or had any other direct contact with the media or public at large. What information trickles out is filtered through government handlers serving as their spokesmen, while reporters and even relatives are denied access.

“We were very excited for Robert to come to Japan so he could be free at last,” James Hyman said after flying to Tokyo only to be refused a meeting with Jenkins, who is his uncle. “Now I wonder if he really is, when he can’t see his own family due to political concerns.”

Jenkins’ sister has also said the Japanese government suggested she stay away.

His Tokyo hospital room is closely guarded, and no one but his wife and daughters may see him.

Even higher is the wall around 40-year-old Crown Princess Masako.

Palace officials have refused to say specifically what is wrong with her. But her husband, Crown Prince Naruhito, said at a news conference in May that a decade of palace life and pressure to produce a baby boy to ensure the future of the royal line have left her exhausted.

Masako’s plight has generated calls for palace reform. But the Imperial Household Agency, the government bureaucracy that oversees palace affairs, has urged the media to stop writing about the couple. Japan’s mainstream media – though not the gossip sheets – have complied.

Fischer, though he has not been arrested or formally charged with any crime, has been in detention at Narita International Airport just outside of Tokyo for more than two weeks. Officials say he is facing deportation for traveling on an invalid passport.

The 61-year-old former world champion has appealed and, according to Japan Chess Association President Miyoko Watai, a longtime friend who has been allowed to speak with him, is seeking asylum in a third country. Watai said Fischer has been treated roughly by officials, and is “a pathetic sight.”

Requests by The Associated Press to meet with Fischer in detention have been denied.

“We have never, in my memory, allowed such a visit,” said immigration office spokesman Itsuo Noto.

Officials said that they reserved the right to not even notify Fischer of a request to see him. They also refused to provide information on his condition, or even on what kind of a cell he is being held in, because of “privacy concerns.”

“There are human rights issues in people not being able to speak for themselves,” said Makoto Teranaka of Amnesty International’s Japan office. “And if Fischer is seeking refugee status, he should not be in custody.”

AP-ES-07-29-04 1443EDT

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