Ben Hills, Herald Correspondent
Tokyo, Wednesday: The spirits whom Masako Owada promised to honour frowned on her today as the newest princess of the world’s oldest royal family married under a dreary sky before an audience who looked as though they were at a funeral.
As she walked stiffly, weighed down by 16 kilograms of specially-woven 9th century regalia, into the most sacred Shinto shrine in Japan to pledge herself to Crown Prince Naruhito, the heavens opened up and the first grey drizzle of the rainy season began.
In the gallery watching their progress to the gable-roofed Kashikodokoro shrine in the grounds of the Imperial Palace – a place holy to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, barred to outsiders – her parents sat expressionless among the 800 invited guests, and her younger twin sisters, Reiko and Setsuko, wept behind their hands.
Even there the couple was not free from the prying eyes of Japan’s six main TV networks – and the international cable network CNN – which between them produced more than 100 hours of programming for an international audience estimated at more than one billion.
A computer simulation of the “secret” ceremony showed the Crown Prince, dressed in a billowing orange robe, offering a tree bough to his ancestors, reading the marriage vow, and exchanging three sips of sake with the woman who has been described as his reluctant bride.
Owada, the 29-year-old former diplomat and graduate of Harvard, Oxford and Tokyo universities, left behind her friends, her family, her career – and the 20th century – this morning when she was driven across the palace moat for the feudal ceremonies that will lead to her becoming the consort of the 126th heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne.
Naruhito, 33 – also an Oxford graduate, whose main reported interests in life are playing the viola, running the half-marathon, and dissecting guppy fish – looked impassive as he preceded his bride into the shrine.
The new Princess Masako had already received 50 hours’ instruction in such esoterica as waka poetry, shuji calligraphy, how to address her husband (she must call him “Mr East Palace”), and how deeply to bow to the in-laws (60 degrees precisely).
Later, she had a chance to put her training into practice when she was officially introduced to Naruhito’s parents, the Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, at the first of many wedding banquets at which etiquette dictates that no-one should actually eat.
The four made gestures with their chopsticks over bowls of sea urchins, fish paste and prawns.
In spite of the dreary weather, 200,000 people lined the streets of Tokyo to wave to the couple during the procession to their new home in the grounds of the Akasaka Palace. There was tight security for the procession, in an open-topped Rolls-Royce, after threats of disruption from radical groups.
The wedding cost $A30 million, of which $25 million was the bill for the security operation.
The couple smiled and waved to the crowd – Naruhito now wearing a dress suit, Masako an ivory dress along with a Western-style tiara containing 3,000 diamonds. Her luggage had preceded her – five pantechnicons delivered a dowry of furniture, musical instruments, bedding and books worth more than $200,000.
The wedding was just the start of three weeks of carefully-scripted rituals, involving more than 20 ceremonies, which will continue to saturate the Japanese media for months to come.
On June 26, for instance, the princess will pray to the imperial ancestors at the shrine at Ise in a ceremony in which two virgins will rub her body with bags of rice-bran to promote fertility.
Tonight, as she goes to bed with Naruhito for the first time, 29 white rice-cakes will sit on four silver salvers in an alcove of their bedroom, an offering said to guarantee that the thoroughly modern Masako Owada will, in due course, produce a boy-child as expected.
Pub date: Thursday 10 June 1993
Section: News and Features
Word count: 830
Keywords: Biog Masako Owada Prince Naruhito
1. Passers-by watch Princess Masako on a giant TV screen.
2. The royal couple in ancient robes. Picture by Reuter