Yesterday, Princess Aiko of Japan celebrated her birthday—which gives us an excellent opportunity for an updated conversation about the tiara and jewels she will (or won’t!) eventually receive to wear for gala occasions.
Princess Aiko has officially been a tiara-wearing member of the Japanese imperial family since she turned 20 in December 2021. But her tiara journey has been a little different from that of other princesses of her generation. For many years, it’s been a tradition for the Imperial Household Agency to allocate money in their annual budget for the creation of a diamond parure, including a tiara and other coordinating jewels, for a princess who comes of age and becomes a full-fledged working member of the family. Contemporary jewelers like Mikimoto and Wako have been commissioned to make the jewelry suites for princesses like Princess Mako of Akishino (now Mako Komuro) and her sister, Princess Kako.
That wasn’t always the case, though. In previous generations, the jewelry made for imperial princesses was funded privately by the emperor. For example, Emperor Akihito personally paid for the diamond tiara and jewels made for his daughter, Princess Sayako, by Mikimoto. She wore the diamond parure often throughout the 1990s and 2000s, until her marriage to a commoner, Yoshiki Kuroda.
When Japanese princesses marry commoners—really their only option for spouses—they cease to be members of the imperial family and largely stop attending functions where their tiaras and jewels are part of the dress code. If the jewels were made using state funds, as Mako Komuro’s were, they must be returned to the Imperial Household Agency. Because Sayako Kuroda’s jewels were a personal gift from her father, she was able to keep them, but she no longer attended imperial functions where they were worn.
Sayako Kuroda’s tiara and jewels remained hidden from view from the time of her marriage in 2005 until 2021. When plans were being made for the coming-of-age ceremony for her niece, Princess Aiko, it was decided that the IHA would not allocate funds in their yearly budget for the creation of a new diamond parure for the princess. The decision was reportedly a purely economic one, coinciding with the economic strains of the pandemic. Instead, Sayako decided to lend her tiara and jewels to Princess Aiko. It was a neat solution that allowed the IHA to cut costs in a tough economic time and also brought a suite of diamond jewelry back into regular use by a new princess.
Princess Aiko wore Sayako’s Mikimoto tiara and jewels for the first time on December 5, 2021, when her coming-of-age ceremony was held at the Imperial Palace a few days after her 20th birthday. So far, Aiko’s birthday celebrations are the only time we’ve seen her wear a tiara in public. Usually, we’d see her in full gala mode at the New Year reception in Tokyo, but that event has been more muted over the past two years, with the Empress and princesses wearing gowns but no tiaras. (Again, reportedly a pandemic-related decision.)
As far as I know, this year’s New Year celebration is being planned to go forward in its full gala mode at this point. But we know one thing for sure: if Princess Aiko is wearing a tiara, it will still be her aunt Sayako’s Mikimoto diadem. The IHA’s budget for 2024 was due at the end of August, and no funds were allocated to make a new tiara for Aiko. That decision was reportedly made at the specific request of Emperor Naruhito and his family, as a gesture toward acknowledging continued economic difficulties in Japan.
Prisma, a royal writer who focuses on the Japanese imperial family, noted that the IHA says that they “would like” to make a new parure for the princess in the future, but apparently only if the family gives them the okay to do so. Perhaps we’ll see a budget allocation for new jewels in the future—or maybe a new suite privately commissioned by Aiko’s parents specifically for her?