Today is my birthday, and what better present could I get than this: the chance to share a brand-new tiara-wearer with you! Princess Aiko, the daughter of the Emperor and Empress of Japan, has made her first official appearance in full formal dress as a member of the imperial family, and I’ve got all the details on her sparkling jewels!
Princess Aiko celebrated her 20th birthday on December 1. In Japan, that’s the age when royals like Aiko become full-fledged working members of the imperial family. The new role involves appearances at formal events, so the princess needed the traditional court dress, fan, and jewels worn by the imperial ladies for these occasions.
Princess Aiko is the only child of the Emperor, but she’s not the heir to the throne. That statement probably needs a little extra explaining for those of us who don’t live in Japan. Empress Masako, who was then the crown princess, gave birth to Aiko on December 1, 2001. Naruhito and Masako, in a break from tradition, chose their daughter’s name themselves, rather than having his father, Emperor Akihito, name the baby. They selected Aiko, which means “a person who loves others.” The baby princess also received a formal imperial title, Princess Toshi. The title has a meaning that’s very compatible with Aiko’s given name: it means “a person who respects others.”
Naruhito and Masako were certainly focused on raising a child who loves and respects other people, but the entire issue of parenthood was a complicated one for the couple. In Japan, only men can inherit the throne, which means that Aiko (and all of her female cousins) aren’t eligible to become Empress. Intense pressure was placed on the couple, especially Masako, to produce a male heir. She suffered at least one miscarriage, and she has dealt with a great deal mentally and emotionally because of the pressure. Even so, it has always been very evident that Naruhito and Masako are completely devoted to their daughter, and photographs from throughout Aiko’s life show her parents beaming proudly as she grows.
Naruhito and Masako have a close friendship with the royals from the Netherlands, who are also the parents of daughters. Here, in 2006, they are photographed on a visit to Apeldoorn with Willem-Alexander, Maxima, Amalia, and Alexia. Charmingly, Aiko and Amalia are holding hands in the image. Amalia, who one day will be able to succeed her father as monarch of the Netherlands, will also take her place as an adult member of the Dutch royal family this week. (She turns 18 tomorrow.)
Princess Aiko has grown into a young woman who is focused and devoted to her studies. She graduated from Gakushuin Girls’ Senior High School in Tokyo in March 2020, and she is now a student at Gakushuin University, where she is studying Japanese language and literature. She’s so driven academically that she requested that her official coming-of-age ceremonies be scheduled for a weekend, so they wouldn’t interrupt her class schedule.
On Sunday, December 5, the ceremonies were officially held in Tokyo. Princess Aiko began the ritual by worshipping at the Three Palace Sanctuaries on the grounds of the imperial palace. Next, she headed inside the palace, where her father presented her with the insignia of the Order of the Precious Crown, the order of chivalry traditionally bestowed on female members of the imperial family. You’ll note the red and gold sash of the order on Aiko above, worn as part of her formal court attire.
We spoke recently about the tiara and jewels that Aiko would wear for these ceremonies. While other princesses who have come of age in recent years have received new parures of jewelry made for them (for example, those given to Aiko’s first cousins, Mako Komuro and Princess Kako of Akishino), Princess Aiko is using a parure of jewelry loaned to her by her aunt, Sayako Kuroda. The former Princess Sayako, the only sister of the Emperor, is pictured wearing the jewels above in 2005.
The new parures made for imperial princesses have been paid for with public funds. (Because of the pandemic, the Imperial Household Agency, didn’t budget for jewels for Aiko, so no new parure was made.) But Sayako’s tiara and jewels, which were made by Mikimoto ca. 1990, are a different story. The cost of Sayako’s jewels 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 the tiara and additional jewels to her niece. It makes sense: Sayako has not worn the parure in public since her marriage in November 2005, and she doesn’t have a current use for the jewels in her current role as Supreme Priestess of the Ise Grand Shrine.
Princess Aiko appeared before the press gathered outside the Imperial Palace wearing her new court dress, order, and her aunt’s imperial jewels. Along with Sayako’s tiara, Aiko also wore the earrings, necklace, and bracelet and brooch (not seen here) from the parure. This close-up view shows off the tiara’s detail nicely. It features fleur-de-lis, scroll, and flower designs.
Unlike many of the imperial parures, this one has a necklace that coordinates with the tiara, but is not a matched, mirrored version of the jewel. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the two most recent Japanese sets.
After the press photocall, Princess Aiko traveled to the Takanawa Imperial Residence in Tokyo for an audience with her grandparents, Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emeritus Michiko. The visit was the first time Aiko had seen her paternal grandparents in person since the start of the pandemic—almost two years.
After visiting her grandparents, Princess Aiko returned to the Imperial Palace, where she was joined by her parents as she received birthday congratulations from Prime Minister Kishida and other government officials. Several members of the imperial family and other relatives were also present, including Crown Prince Fumihito, Princess Kako, and Sayako and Yoshiki Kuroda.
Princess Aiko removed her jacket for this portion of the day’s events, allowing us a glimpse of the diamond brooch that she used to secure her order sash. It does appear to be the same one also worn by her aunt Sayako.
For the official congratulations, Empress Masako didn’t wear a tiara. Instead, she wore a lovely strand of pearls, plus pearl and gold earrings and a gold ribbon brooch. I can only imagine that it will be an incredible comfort to both the Emperor and Empress—but especially to Masako—to have their daughter standing beside them at official events going forward.
It’s such a fun experience to see a princess wear a tiara for the very first time. But don’t hold your breath for a repeat occurrence: this is going to be the last tiara debut we’ll see in Japan for quite a long time. The next princess we’ll see joining the imperial family will be the woman who eventually marries Aiko’s cousin, Prince Hisahito. He is the only child left in the imperial family, and the only realistic heir to the throne. He’s 15, so it will likely be more than a decade before he marries and Japan’s imperial family gains a new princess.