Naruhito, Crown Prince, and Princess Masako


Naruhito, Crown Prince, and Princess Masako
▪ 1994

       The June 9 wedding of Crown Prince Naruhito and Masako Owada in Tokyo was undoubtedly the most talked-about royal event in many years. In earlier times royal brides came from the nobility, but Naruhito followed in the footsteps of his father, Emperor Akihito, by marrying a commoner. Media from all over the world found in the courtship and marriage many telltale signs that times had changed.

      The path to the wedding had been a long one. When the couple met for the first time in 1986 at a tea party, Naruhito was favourably impressed. Owada, however, was reportedly not interested in courtship. Marriage for a young woman in modern Japan would mean the loss of much of the unprecedented freedom she enjoyed. For Owada the decision was even more difficult because she would be exchanging a career in diplomacy for life in the imperial household, where the emperor's family, by tradition, lacked both privacy and autonomy. It was not until December 1992 that Owada finally decided to accept the prince's proposal.

      Naruhito had persuaded his bride-to-be that her duties would be largely diplomatic in nature; he also promised to protect her for her entire life. The idea of protecting was widely interpreted to mean that he was determined to guard her from the traditional, rigid ways of the Imperial Household Agency courtiers. The newlyweds were expected to accelerate the transition to an imperial family that was more relaxed and accessible. Both, moreover, were well prepared to take advantage of the experience they had in the world beyond the palace walls.

      Crown Prince Naruhito, eldest son of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, was born on Feb. 23, 1960. He was the first heir to the Japanese throne to have studied abroad. During two years of researching marine transportation at Merton College, Oxford, the student prince mastered the commoners' skills of doing laundry and using a credit card. Between appearances on state occasions, the crown prince found time to play the viola and occasionally teach classes at Gakushuin University in Tokyo, where he did graduate studies.

      Masako Owada, daughter of Hisashi Owada, a high-ranking official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was born in Tokyo on Dec. 9, 1963. As a child she lived in the Soviet Union and in the U.S., where her father was on diplomatic missions. In 1985 she graduated from Harvard University with a major in economics. In 1986 she enrolled in Tokyo University. Having passed the diplomatic service test, she joined the Foreign Ministry in 1987. In 1990 the ministry sent her to study at Oxford. Later, as a junior diplomat, she worked long hours, compiling briefing papers on trade issues and translating tedious documents. By the time she became engaged, Owada had won wide respect for the depth of her knowledge on highly technical matters and for her skills as a diplomat. (HIDEKO TAKAYAMA)

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Universalium. 2010.

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