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Media Gear Up For End of News Blackout on Prince’s Search for Bride

December 1, 1992

TOKYO (AP) _ Pity poor Crown Prince Naruhito. He still hasn’t found his princess bride - but he may soon find himself back in the headlines.

A voluntary yearlong news blackout on the search for Japan’s future empress - observed by most major news organizations here - will end in February, and Japan’s media are gearing up to resume the royal scrutiny.

Palace officials requested the ban because they claimed intense coverage of the courtship of Naruhito, heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, was scaring eligible women away.

The media attention reached a fever pitch with the 1990 marriage of Naruhito’s younger brother, Prince Akishino, and some stories took to portraying Naruhito as something of a hapless suitor. Get a new hairstyle, one magazine suggested.

Naruhito, eldest son of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, told reporters in 1987 that he wanted to be married by the time he turned 30. He turns 33 in February.

Many journalists wonder whether the end of the ban will make much of a difference, since most mainstream media are too preoccupied with a sensational political scandal and other more pressing business to beef up their full-time princess-watching staff.

″Our main concern is being sure we don’t get scooped,″ said one reporter who covers the palace for a major newspaper. ″But since it doesn’t look like there is anyone even close (to marrying the crown prince) yet, we aren’t particularly nervous.″

As is customary, the reporter spoke only on condition he not be further identified. Palace officials closely guard information about Japan’s sequestered royal family, and use access as a powerful weapon to keep the media in line.

Some newspapers and magazines are already speculating that the blackout’s end means an announcement that the prince will marry is at hand. But former imperial chamberlain Minoru Hamao said that was off target.

Hamao, who was in charge of Prince Naruhito’s education when he was a child, said he doesn’t know of any candidates in the running.

″I don’t expect any announcements soon,″ he said.

Rumors of possible royal matches continue to set off flurries of stories. The rumor mill’s choice last month - Yumiko Toyoda, daughter of the president of Toyota Motors - turned out to have other plans.

The palace arranges meeting with potential candidates. But there’s only so far that royal handlers can take matters.

″The palace has made up lists of graduates from good colleges, women with the proper family background, of the proper age,″ Hamao said. ″They invite such women to tea parties or other events the crown prince is to attend. But the rest is up to him.″

Hamao attributed Naruhito’s difficulties to the weight of his future title. The marital woes of Britain’s royal family haven’t helped.

″Being crown prince is a very heavy responsibility, and to be his wife is to one day be empress,″ he said. ″This is something that must be very carefully considered.″

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