Sun, Dec 19, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Tragedy again postpones Japan royal engagement

LAST OF OLD GUARD The death yesterday of Princess Takamatsu, granddaughter of Japan's last shogun, forced Princess Sayako to delay her betrothal to a commoner

AP , TOKYO

Princess Sayako, the only daughter of Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, has postponed the announcement of her engagement due to the early morning death of her great-aunt, an official said yesterday.

The Imperial Household Agency had been planning for Sayako, 35, to declare later in the day that she would marry Tokyo city bureaucrat Yoshiki Kuroda, 39.

Princess Takamatsu, the widow of the late Emperor Hirohito's younger brother Takamatsu, died at the age of 92 early yesterday, an agency official said on condition of anonymity.

Sayako's great-aunt died of blood poisoning after bacteria from her intestine seeped into her bloodstream, NHK news agency reported. The granddaughter of Yoshinobu Tokugawa, Japan's last shogun or feudal lord, she had been in and out of the hospital since February.

Television footage showed Sayako and other members of the royal family arriving at the Takamatsu residence to pay their respects. Dressed in a black suit, Sayako looked straight ahead from the back seat of her chauffeured car as it pulled up to the gate.

Princess Takamatsu, also known by her name Kikuko, had no children. Her husband died of lung cancer in 1987.

She was the first member of Japan's royal family to publicly support debate on allowing an empress to assume the Chrysanthemum Throne when she submitted a two-page article on the topic to the women's magazine Fujin Koron in 2002.

Public opinion is broadly in favor of allowing women to reign, and discussion on that possibility has since spread out of sympathy for Crown Princess Masako, who suffered a breakdown due the intense pressures on her to produce a male heir.

The official did not say how long the engagement announcement would be delayed.

The youngest of Akihito and Michiko's three children, Sayako is also the last to wed.

Sayako and Kuroda had initially planned to announce their engagement in November, but postponed the festive occasion out of consideration for the victims of a major earthquake that rocked northern Japan in October.

Kuroda attended the elite Gakushuin school with Sayako's older brother, Prince Akishino. Though Sayako had known Kuroda through Akishino since childhood, the two only reportedly began their courtship late last year.

According to Japanese media, Akishino arranged for the two to meet discreetly at parties he hosted inside his Akasaka palace grounds. Kuroda said last month the couple had kept in touch through e-mail.

The soft-spoken princess endured intense public scrutiny in her 20s as Japanese media speculated about her potential husbands. A Vienna-trained violinist and member of the family that produces Seiko watches popped up on lists of her possible suitors, while she was also reported to be flying off for secret meetings in Europe.

Sayako herself showed little sense of urgency, repeatedly saying in her annual birthday statements that she would give the matter "careful thought."

On her last birthday in April, the princess told reporters that it was only natural for women of her generation to be single or put off marriage in a society where females have won more opportunities.

Kuroda may be an ideal mate even if only because his friendship with Akishino has made him familiar with the idiosyncrasies of palace life and Sayako's unique upbringing.

According to imperial household law, the princess will become a commoner after she marries and moves out of the moat-lined imperial palace. She will lose her royal title, Norinomiya, and adopt Kuroda's last name.

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