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Princess Sayako -Joining the Rank of Commoner

Its not exactly the tale of pauper turned prince, but the story of Japanese princess Sayako and Yoshiki Kuroda, a "commoner", is pretty close to this script. 

On December 30th, 2004, the engagement of Princess Sayako and Yoshiki Kuroda, a Tokyo city hall urban planner, was announced by the Imperial Household Agency to great joy and surprise in Japan.  The announcemnet quelched years of disappointing speculation about potential suitors for the princess.  In Japan, tradition typically calls for women to marry before age 30.  Princess Sayako, 35, has since been seen as a symbol for modern Japanese women, where career has since been given top priority over becoming marriage.    

Sayako's wedding is being embraced by many in Japan as an auspicious event. Bridal-related stocks have briefly jumped as hopeful entrepreneurs are betting that Sayako's wedding may spur other marriages in a nation where the pool of singles women in their thirties and forties is rapidly growing.

Princess Sayako, the only daughter of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, was widely perceived as to stay single the rest of her life.  An accomplished scientist, many believed that she had resigned the thought of marriage to concentrate on her work - research on birds, particularly kingfishers, and the avian (bird) flu, with the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology.  This sentiment was felt after Princess Sayako's prior relationships with a classical violinist and a tea ceremony expert failed to go any further.     

The Emperor and Empress were delighted by their daughter's engagement.  "We are happy the young couple decided after nearly two years that they will spend their future lives together," they said in a statement.

The engagement is a bright spot for the Japanese royal family following the death of Princess Takamatsu's (Emperor Akihito's sister) and the decision by Princess Masako, wife of Prince Naruhito, heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne and Sayako's brother, to withdraw from official duties for a year because of a stress-related illness.

The official announcement of their engagement was slated for almost six weeks ago but was delayed out of respect for the 40 people killed and thousands injured in a powerful earthquake that hit a region near the Sea of Japan in late October 2004. Such considerations are highly appreciated in Japan, and the public has appeared to embrace the marriage even more as a result of Sayako's and the imperial family's thoughtfulness.

The bespectacled Yoshiki Kurodo , affectionately known to friends as "Kuro-chan," was a former banker before his current job with city hall.  He is characterized as being a private and low-key person.  "Mr. Yoshiki Kuroda is a fine and appropriate person," Toshio Yuasa, grand steward of the Imperial Household, told reporters at the Imperial palace, a closely guarded area in Tokyo.  

Kuroda is a childhood friend of Princess Sayako's older brother Prince Akishino from the days they attended school together.  Akishino is believed to have played a role in getting the nearly two-year courtship started, arranging for them to meet discreetly at his palace.  The wedding will probably occur in the latter half of next year, Yuasa said.

Beyond being a respected scientist - she has contributed an article on Kingfishers to the Animals of Japan Encyclopedia - Bird Species and has also contributed to a section on kingfishers in bird-watchers periodicals - Princess Sayako is also recognized as an accomplished traditional Japanese-style dancer.  She is also viewed as one of the country's great humanitarians, being involved in a variety of charity organizations and acting as a goodwill ambassador to many countries.  She has also been actively involved in the training of guide dogs, a role she had always aspired towards ever since childhood.  Princess Sayako graduated from the Department of Japanese Language and Literature of the Faculty of Letters of the Gakushuin University in March 1992

The wedding will mark the first time a royal family member has been married since 1993 when Prince Naruhito, Sayako's brother, wedded Masako.  The wedding is expected to be significantly more low-key than the nuptials of her two older brothers.  As with women born in the imperial family, Princess Sayako will become a commoner after she marries, move out of the palace and lose her royal title Norinomiya.  Unlike western royal families, all activities performed by the royal family are highly guarded.  This has led them to live relatively sheltered life, including Princess Sayako.  With the impending marriage, Princess Sayako will have a greater opportunity to interact with the public. 

The pending loss of her title has highlighted what many Japanese people decry as a male chauvinist imperial system.  In addition to losing their titles with marriage, female royals are prohibited from ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne, the world's oldest continuous monarchy.  Public disapproval over the treatment of women in the imperial system has mounted to the point that government officials are reportedly studying legal revisions to allow for female monarchs as well as the continuation of titles after marriage.