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Japanese princess trades palace for apartment

Japan’s Princess Sayako bid farewell to Tokyo’s royal palace on Tuesday to wed commoner Yoshiki Kuroda, bringing her 36 years as a member of the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy to an end.
SAYAKO KURODA
Sayako Kuroda, right, and her husband Yoshiki Kuroda raise glasses of champagne to toast during their wedding banquet at a Tokyo hotel on Tuesday.Koji Sasahara / AP
/ Source: 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 for 45 years.

“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 ceremony.

Traditional mixed with modern
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 Ishihara.

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 to be served a French-style menu of lobster and caviar followed by lamb.

Most of the female guests were in kimonos for the reception, but Sayako’s sister-in-law, Crown Princess Masako, wore a burgundy velvet suit with lace collar.

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 marriage.

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

Culture shock
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 months.

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.

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.

Princess learns to drive
But thousands of people gathered along the route from the palace to the hotel, some waving Japanese flags, to wish her well.

“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 chores.