Hironomiya would like
"international" bride

It's all right to dream, but it's wrong to marry

By William Wetherall

A version of this article appeared in
Far Eastern Economic Review, 130(50), 19 December 1985, page 85

Like other heirs-apparent to Japan's 124-generation throne, Prince Hiro (Hironomiya Naruhito) had been reared in a nearly germ-free bubble. But in the summer of 1983 he ventured to the septic wilds of Oxford's Merton College to study marine transportation in medieval Europe. He shared campus life with other, graduate students washed and ironed his own clothes, missed Japanese food, collected silver spoons, invited classmates to his room for hot sake when not throwing darts at a local pub, and otherwise discovered the pleasures and pains of being a prince in a European country.

Hiro is not a mere royal appendage. He is 25, the oldest son of Crown Prince Akihito--whose hair has whitened while watching his own father, Hirohito, become, in six decades, the longest-reigning emperor in Japanese history. He is being groomed as an "international person" in an era that foresees the imperial family playing a greater role in improving Japan's image abroad. Japan's Constitution limits the political activities of the imperial family to ceremonial acts, but Hiro would like to do what he can to ease trade friction and promote mutual understanding.

Hiro returned to his family home, the imperial palace in central Tokyo, at the end of October, along with legions of weekly magazine reporters, who regard him as Japan's most eligible bachelor. Every rumour about the latest entry in the royal marriage sweepstakes is ardently followed up.

Whoever his empress, she will have to be of solid Yamato stock like himself. Japanese have no truck with the European and even Chinese tolerance (to a point) of inter-ethnic marriages. While fortifying his Yamato spirit with "pure Japanese cuisine" during a summer break back home in 1984, Hiro denied stories that he had someone in mind, but he let it be known that he would prefer a kokusaijin (international person)-by which is usually meant a person "able to speak English enough to facilitate the defence of Japanese culture from foreign incursions."

Whatever Hiro meant, he apparently had not yet considered the possibility of an international marriage. "I have never even thought of one," he reportedly stated in early October at a press conference held in London just before his return home via the US. But he added that he wanted to marry a woman who could express her own opinion "when necessary" (in whose judgment he failed to say).

Three weeks later, on the eve of the transpacific last leg of his journey, his answer to the big question had somewhat changed, no doubt because his US itinerary had included a visit to Princeton University, and an "unexpected" audience with the girl of his dreams.

"She's better looking than even her pictures," he blushed when queried about his 15-minute meeting with Brooke Shields. The star put her arm around his shoulders for a picture, exchanged addresses and promised to write, before rushing off to a French class.

"It's difficult for me to express in words the image of the ideal woman that's drawn in my head," Hiro told reporters in San Francisco, practising his bachelor diplomacy. "It used to be the actress Keiko Takeshita, but now it's someone like Brooke Shields, who says things clearly and untimidly. However," he laughed, "I can't marry a foreigner."

This suggests that Hiro has given the idea at least passing thought. One also imagines that the prince's "however" was as close as he could get to "unfortunately" without worrying his pedigree guardians back home.

In Japan, no one seriously thinks that Hiro will be swimming the palace moat to practise his English on glamorous foreign models in Tokyo's Roppongi discotheques. Despite an extraordinary overseas exposure and an outgoing manner that make him more worldly than either his father or grandfather, he lacks the social freedom both granted to and claimed by his often controversial European peers.

If Hiro's almost bonsai-like (wire-controlled) future is in any way lamentable, it is not because the world needs more blue-blooded playboys playing with jet fighters and porn actresses. Nor would a political marriage have meaning in an age when most monarchies are nominally constitutional. But Japan's ban on international marriages for its royalty, though some intermarriage with Koreans has occurred, is sad because it smacks of the ultimate non-tariff barrier.

How can other countries trust the global smile of a nation that keeps its royal children from being the world citizens they would surely become if they were not forced to be so endogamous?