Princess Sayako's wedding on Tuesday will be austere by royal standards: instead of the palace, a Tokyo hotel will be the venue. There won't be any cake-cutting, wedding ring exchanges or even a honeymoon trip.
For Sayako, the daughter of Emperor Akihito, is marrying her way right out of the palace, which operates under a 1947 law that automatically makes female blue bloods into commoners upon their nuptials and bars them from assuming the throne.
But Sayako, 36, marrying Tokyo city bureaucrat Yoshiki Kuroda, 40, is also a symbol of changing times: hoping to stave off a succession crisis at the palace, the government is inching toward changing that law to let women reign.
"She is likely be the last princess to have to give up her royal status," said Hidehiko Kasahara, law professor at Keio University in Tokyo.
The impetus for the change is the dire lack of male heirs to assume Japan's ancient Chrysanthemum Throne. The family hasn't had a male baby in four decades; Crown Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako have had one girl, three-year-old Aiko.
While the focus has been on the looming succession difficulties, Sayako's case has been seen by some as more evidence that the ways of the palace are woefully out of sync with the rest of modern Japan. Unlike her brothers, Naruhito and Prince Akishino, Sayako will give up her royal title, forego her generous royal allowance and move from the moat-ringed palace to a Tokyo apartment after her marriage.
To prepare for the dramatic shift to commoner existence, Sayako has gone through a grueling program: She's taken driving lessons and practiced shopping at supermarkets; media reports say the couple has studied catalogs to choose furniture and appliances for their new home.
In exchange for the loss of her royal title, she will get a last name, Kuroda, for the first time in her life, since royal family members are only known by their first names and titles. She will also gain Constitutional rights and duties as a Japanese citizen, to vote, pay taxes, or get involved in politics.
Despite her impending commoner status, Tuesday's ceremony won't be exactly lowbrow.
The Shinto style wedding and banquet will take place at Tokyo's swanky Imperial Hotel. The champagne toast will be delivered by none other than Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.
The media attention has been constant, though less dramatic than previous weddings at the palace, focusing from a respectful distance on Sayako's courtship with Kuroda. The two are childhood acquaintances, but their romance began two years ago at a tennis party thrown by Akishino.
Government officials have been appropriately fawning.
"It is still November, but I feel as if spring has already arrived," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe waxed philosophically last week when asked about the wedding. "Along with the general public, I would like to express my sincere joy and give my blessing."
The post-nuptials, however, will be low-key. Palace officials said that after the reception, the newlyweds will either drop by at Kuroda's house where he lives with his mother, or go straight to their new home.
Sayako will be the first princess to abandon her royal status in 45 years. The last one was her aunt, Takako Shimada, who married a commoner in March 1960.
Even before 1947, Japanese practice had been to put men on the throne whenever possible. Despite that, eight women have held the crown over the past 1,500 or so years, the most recent being Gosakuramachi, who ascended the throne in 1763, reports the AP. I.L.
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