Japanese princess starts life as a commoner

Wearing a white dress and pearls, Japan's Princess Sayako bid farewell to Tokyo's royal palace on Tuesday to wed commoner Yoshiki Kuroda.

Well-wishers cheered as an official car slowly drove Sayako out of the gates of the palace, bringing her 36 years as a member of the world's oldest hereditary monarchy to a close.

Her Shinto-style wedding to Kuroda, a Tokyo city employee, was to take place later Tuesday at Tokyo's swanky Imperial Hotel.

Unlike her brothers, Crown Prince Naruhito and Prince Akishino, Sayako must give up her royal title and generous royal allowance and move from the moat-ringed palace to a Tokyo apartment after her wedding.

Under a 1947 law, female royals automatically become commoners when they are married and are barred from assuming the throne.

To prepare for the dramatic shift to commoner status, Sayako has taken driving lessons and practiced shopping at supermarkets; the couple has studied catalogs to choose furniture and appliances for their new home.

The two are childhood acquaintances, but their romance began two years ago at a tennis party thrown by Akishino.

The post-nuptials will be low key, the Imperial Household Agency has said. After the reception, the newlyweds are to dine at the hotel and go straight to their new home.

But Sayako, 36, may be the last royal princess to give up her royal status. Hoping to stave off a succession crisis at the palace, the government is inching toward changing the law to let women reign.

The impetus 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; Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako have one girl, 3-year-old Aiko.

With opinion polls showing firm, widespread support for letting women reign, Japan is now on the verge of reverting back to a pre-1947 system that allowed eight women assume the throne over the past 1,500 years.

A high-powered government commission recently wrote a report recommending consideration of allowing women back on the throne, and bills to make the change could be sent to Parliament for approval as early as next year, AP reports.

А. А.

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