Cover Princess Aiko greets the press on the occasion of her coming-of-age at the Imperial Palace on December 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. The only daughter of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako marked her 20th birthday on December 1, 2021. (Photo by Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images)

The only child of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako has officially made her debut and will become a working royal

Japan’s got a new princess to watch: Princess Aiko.

The only child of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako turned 20 on Wednesday, December 1, and celebrated her coming of age with a ceremony at the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo over the weekend.

Wearing a white gown, gloves, diamond tiara (more on this later) and a fan, the princess took part in a series of highly elaborate rituals marking her move to become a full-fledged working member of Japan’s Imperial Family. The princess first visited the Three Palace Sanctuaries at the palace to pay respects to the Imperial Family’s ancestors and deities, following which, she was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Precious Crown from the Emperor in the Houou no Ma hall, Tatler UK reports.

Later in the day, the princess also formally greeted her parents, paid a visit to her grandparents—Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko—for the first time at the Sentro Kari Gosho temporary Imperial residence in Tokyo, and received celebratory wishes from other members of the Imperial Family, including Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko, and also from the heads of the three branches of government, according to reports.

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“I would like to refine myself and move forward step by step so that I can grow into an adult who can be of service to others,” the princess said in a statement released by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan.

Her coming-of-age ceremony, while grand, was a rather simple affair, which pundits speculate was done on purpose to deflect media attention following the marriage of her cousin, the former Princess Mako. It was held over the weekend so as not to disrupt the princess’s studies at the Gakushuin University in Tokyo, and the traditional press conference held after a royal’s coming-of-age ceremony has been postponed to next March.

Currently, Princess Aiko is not eligible to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne, thanks to an archaic law that limits it to only male royals.

Here, find out five things you need to know about Japan’s newest working royal.

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She broke with tradition and chose not to make a tiara for her coming-of-age ceremony

Eschewing Japanese royal tradition, the princess opted not to have a new tiara made for the ceremony, instead, she chose to wear her aunt, the former Princess Nori’s diamond tiara. In comparison, the former Princess Mako’s coming-of-age ceremony tiara reportedly cost a cool 28 million Japanese yen (around SG$336,594). She reportedly refused to make a new tiara out of consideration for the people suffering under restrictions and hardship as a result of the pandemic. This is the first time in 150 years that a new tiara has not been made for female Japanese royal who has come of age.

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She is already popular with the Japanese people

According to Japanese media reports, Princess Aiko’s move to give up making a new tiara will save the royal family 28 million yen (about SG$336,594) in expenses. The Japanese people were reportedly mostly positive about the fact that Princess Aiko gave up making a tiara, and praised her as “a model of the royal family”, and her “wise judgment”, saying that she “has gained the trust of the people”. As early as April, when the Imperial Household Agency announced the 2021 budget, this was already widely discussed by Japanese netizens, because it did not include the production costs of Princess Aiko’s tiara.

She is multi-talented

The princess is currently studying Japanese language and literature at the Gakushuin University in Tokyo. She is also reportedly taking classes in English, Spanish, Japanese history and art. In addition, the Princess’s hobbies include playing the piano and violin, and she has also dabbled in calligraphy and writing poetry.

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She was already special from birth

As the only child of Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, Princess Aiko was already special from birth. For a start, the princess’s birth name was chosen by her father, instead of the Emperor, as tradition decreed. He chose her personal name ‘Aiko’, from one of Chinese philosopher Mencius’s teachings, and, written in kanji, it bears the characters for ‘love’ (愛) and ‘child’ (子) and bears her parents’ wishes for her to be a person who loves others. Her formal imperial title, Princess Toshi, means “one who respects others”.

Her parents also chose the cork azalea, or white-flowered Asian azalea, Rhododendron quinquefolium, as Princess Aiko’s symbol at birth, wishing that she would have a heart as pure as the white flower.

She has sparked debate about changing the Japanese imperial law of ascension

The princess’s birth has led to public debate over the 1947 Imperial House Law, which restricts ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne to only male royals. The world’s oldest monarchy is facing an impending succession crisis, with only three remaining eligible heirs to the throne—namely, Crown Prince Akishino, his son Prince Hisahito, and Prince Hitachi, the uncle of the current emperor, Bloomberg reports. Currently, female royals have to give up their titles and position in the royal family upon marriage, reducing the current pool of royals in Japan to just 17 members at the moment. According to a recent poll, over 80 per cent of the Japanese public support having “both a reigning empress and an emperor descending from a female member of the imperial family”, and seeing the Japanese Imperial family as “a critical part of national identity”.

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