Princess Aiko, the daughter of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako of Japan, will officially come of age at the beginning of next month—and we’ve got all the details about the tiara she’ll receive as a 20th birthday gift.
Princess Aiko is the only daughter of the Emperor of Japan, but because Japan only allows men to succeed to the throne, she is not her father’s heir. Even so, when she turns 20 on December 1, she will become a working member of the imperial family, participating in official engagements and attending galas and other formal events.
When Aiko attends formal events at the Imperial Palace, naturally, she’ll need a set of jewels to wear. This week, we learned more about the tiara that she’ll receive as part of her birthday celebrations. (Twenty is the age of majority for most aspects of Japanese society and culture, and it’s the age when members of the imperial family begin participating in court events.) Rather than receiving a brand-new tiara, Princess Aiko will wear a tiara that was previously worn by her aunt, Princess Sayako (pictured above in 2005). The tiara is currently being adjusted so that it better fits Princess Aiko’s head.
Princess Sayako, pictured here standing between the Princess Akishino and the Princess Hitachi at a court function in 2005, is the only sister of Emperor Naruhito. For fifteen years, Princess Sayako was a working member of the imperial family, and she wore this sparkling diamond tiara for all formal occasions. (She also had a second academic career as an ornithologist.) But in November 2005, when she was 36, the princess married Yoshiki Kuroda, an urban planner working for the city of Tokyo. On her marriage, she lost her imperial status and became Sayako Kuroda. Today, she is the Supreme Priestess at the Ise Grand Shrine.
It came as a surprise to some that Princess Aiko would receive a “hand-me-down” tiara instead of a brand-new set of diamond jewels. After all, both of Aiko’s cousins, the most recent imperial princesses to come of age, received new parures. On the left, Princess Mako of Akishino (now Mako Komuro) wears the diamond tiara and coordinating jewels made for her by the Japanese jewelry firm Wako. And on the right, Princess Kako of Akishino wears her diamond tiara and jewels, which were made by Mikimoto. Interestingly, most of the recent suites of jewelry presented to Japanese princesses have been paid for public funds. But the cost of Sayako’s tiara (made by Mikimoto around 1990) was met with funds from her father’s living expense allowance, which means she still owns it, and she’s the one who has decided to lend it and additional jewels to her niece.
The reason that Princess Aiko will wear an already-created suite of jewelry is simple: the coronavirus pandemic. The Imperial Household Agency did not set aside money in the annual budget for a new tiara and jewels for the princess as a cost-saving measure in the wake of the pandemic. Princess Sayako’s tiara has not been worn in public since 2005. This isn’t totally unprecedented: other Japanese princesses occasionally wear tiaras and jewels that were previously worn by relatives who have married commoners and left the family, or who have passed away.
We’ll see Princess Aiko make her debut in Princess Sayako’s diamond tiara and jewels during her official birthday audience with her parents next month. The coming-of-age ceremony is scheduled for December 5. The princess actually turns 20 on December 1, but she requested that the audience be held over the weekend so it wouldn’t interfere with her academic schedule. She’s currently a student at Gakushuin University in Tokyo.
UPDATE: The coming-of-age ceremony was indeed held on December 5, and Aiko wore her aunt’s tiara and jewels for the occasion.
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