Life's a royal pain at times as prince's wedding nears

FOREIGN CLOSEUP

March 04, 1993|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- At Tokyo Disneyland, the white-uniformed prince puts the glass slipper on Cinderella once or twice a day and takes her away in his carriage to live happily ever after.

In a Tokyo suburb just over an hour's drive away, a family and its neighbors are discovering there's more to the princess thing than having the right shoe size.

"I've learned which days traffic will be blocked between my house and the garage where I park," says Kumiko Yoshida. "It's )) the days when there are four or five police and news helicopters overhead. When I feel them shaking the house, I know I'll have to walk a few extra blocks around barricades to get to my car."

Mrs. Yoshida, 57, lives in the affluent and formerly peaceful Tokyo suburb of Himonya, around the corner from Masako Owada, the 29-year-old Harvard-educated diplomat who in January became Crown Prince Naruhito's bride-to-be.

Like other neighbors, Mrs. Yoshida has had to adjust to life with a score of policemen and a dozen or more reporters who constantly patrol the neighborhood, along with hundreds of tourists who stroll through every day to glimpse the celebrity digs and occasional buildups to 120 or more policemen and a similar number of reporters when Miss Owada is about to go in or out.

"At least we don't need to worry much about crime these days," Mrs. Yoshida says.

For Miss Owada, the impact has been more direct.

In about a week, she is to start a 50-hour "princess education" at the Imperial Palace.

Among the eight subjects she will study are: "waka," traditional Japanese poems (10 hours); calligraphy (seven hours); imperial rituals, events, customs and manners (seven hours); the constitution and the Imperial Household Law (six hours); Japanese history (six hours); and Shinto rituals (six hours).

Miss Owada's curriculum is a little more than half of what the current empress, who became the first commoner to marry into the imperial family, received. The former Michiko Shoda took 97 hours of courses.

The impending marriage also is having an extraordinary impact on Miss Owada's family, which suddenly finds itself contemplating how to produce a trousseau fit for a future empress of Japan.

It will have to include an ample supply of hand-crafted kimonos, each a work of art with a price tag rivaling a Toyota's. With them must come strings of the Japanese cultured pearls that have long been associated with the emperor's family, and bedding, furniture and works of art fit for the palace.

The dark-suited chamberlains of the Imperial Household Agency not discuss publicly details as unseemly as the cost of a

trousseau. Among journalists who cover the royal family, the consensus is that the truckloads of goods she will bring to the palace will cost about 300 million yen, about $2.5 million.

No one expects the bride's father, Vice Foreign Minister Hisashi Owada, to have means that stretch that far. The chamberlains, too, may find it hard to squeeze that much out of the imperial household's tax-supported budget.

The universal assumption is that the groom's father, Emperor Akihito, will take the unprecedented step of dipping into the imperial family's own resources to help cover costs.

But the impact on the Owada family goes beyond yen.

Mr. Owada has been forced to deny repeatedly that he plans a career change. Still, he has been unable to silence speculation in magazines, newspapers and on television that being the future empress' father means he will have to give up his post as `D Japan's top career diplomat.

For Miss Owada's mother's family, the engagement has revived a largely forgotten controversy.

The princess-to-be's grandfather, Egashira Yutaka, was, successively, managing director, president and chairman of Chisso Corp. during an 11-year stretch that included much of its long-running court battle with residents of Minamata, the site of Japan's most celebrated environmental pollution case.

Hundreds of people died and more than 1,000 others were paralyzed, disabled or otherwise affected when they were poisoned by mercury sloughed into the sea by Chisso's carbide plant at Minamata.

The household agency concluded that because Mr. Yutaka had not been at Chisso when the pollution occurred, Miss Owada could pass the stringent background checks, which go back three generations for a crown prince's bride.

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