November 15, 2005

Japan princess to start new life as commoner

By Isabel Reynolds

TOKYO (Reuters) - Princess Sayako, the only daughter of
Japan's Emperor Akihito, wed a commoner in a private ceremony
at a Tokyo hotel on Tuesday, losing her privileged status as a
member of the imperial family.

Sayako, wearing a simple, full-length white silk dress and
pearls, walked several steps behind groom Yoshiki Kuroda into a
sparsely decorated room where the traditional Shinto ceremony
was held.

The couple were greeted by a priest dressed in white silk
robes. About 30 close relatives, including the emperor and
empress, attended.

Rather than exchanging wedding rings, the half-hour ritual
centered on the sipping of cups of sake rice wine.

Marriage to Kuroda, a 40-year-old urban planner, means
Sayako, 36, relinquishes her title, swapping the grandeur of
the Imperial Palace for an ordinary Tokyo apartment, and
trading official duties for housework and the supermarket run.

She is the first daughter of an emperor to marry in 45

"I want to learn various new things and I look forward to a
new life as a member of the Kuroda family, while treasuring in
my heart the life I have led up until now with their majesties
and my family," Sayako said in a brief news conference, carried
live by all of Japan's six terrestrial TV stations after the

Later in the day, the newlyweds made an entrance at a
modest reception for 130 people, to the strains of a string
quartet made up of friends of the couple.

Dressed in a cream-colored kimono and gold-embroidered sash
borrowed from her mother, Empress Michiko, Sayako remained well
behind her husband as they made their way to a low stage for a
toast, proposed by Kuroda's boss, Tokyo Governor Shintaro

In a break with tradition, the Kurodas then left the stage
and joined members of the imperial family at a large table,
where they were served a French-style menu of lobster and
caviar followed by lamb.

Most of the female guests were in kimonos for the

Sayako -- known informally as Nori -- may be the last
princess to leave the royal family if the government enacts
proposed legal changes that would give women the same right as
men to inherit the throne and to retain their titles on

No boys have been born into the imperial family since 1965,
making changes to the law a pressing problem.


Sayako's sister-in-law, Crown Princess Masako, found the
opposite transition -- from commoner to princess -- so
stressful that she had to take more than a year's break from
public duties, only returning to the public eye in the past few

A hint of the culture shock awaiting Sayako was revealed in
an exchange with a lady-in-waiting quoted by one newspaper.

"It's really hard to clean up things like closets and
bureaus just after you move into a new place," the Asahi
Shimbun newspaper quoted the lady-in-waiting as saying.

To which Sayako replied: "What, you have to clean up?"

But Sayako's serious, bespectacled husband has said he is
determined to help her adjust to her new life, and Ishihara
said he would like her to enjoy it.

"Part of her must feel carefree now, relieved, now that she
has left the imperial family and become a commoner. I want to
set up an opportunity so that she can get a taste of this,"
Ishihara said, adding that he would like to host a more
informal party among Kuroda's office colleagues.

Though a descendant of Japan's now-abolished aristocracy,
Kuroda shares a modest apartment with his widowed mother.

The couple will live in a rented apartment not far from the
palace before moving to a new condominium to be completed next
year, media reports said.

The ceremony involved little of the fanfare associated with
European royal weddings, or the public frenzy that accompanied
her two brothers' marriages.

But thousands of people gathered along the route from the
palace to the hotel, some waving Japanese flags, to wish her

"They are people in a different world from us and we look
up to them, but we don't really go around shouting 'Long live
the Emperor,' said Tetsuya Shinji, 33, after watching Sayako
leave the palace.

"Basically she is the same age as we are, so we thought
we'd come to celebrate her marriage."

Honeymoon plans have not been made public, but some media
reports said the couple would visit such domestic sites as the
Ise Shrine in central Japan after settling into their new life.

The shrine is dedicated to the goddess Amaterasu, mythical
ancestor of the imperial family, which traces its history back
at least 1,600 years.

The couple's life after the wedding will be cushioned by
Sayako's $1.29 million dowry from the state.

She has taken driving lessons in an apparent attempt to fit
in with Kuroda's enthusiasm for motoring, and has also spent
time brushing up her cooking skills.

Sayako has already given up her part-time job as a
researcher at an ornithology center in Chiba, near Tokyo,
possibly to give herself more time to adjust to unfamiliar

(Additional reporting by Elaine Lies)