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For A 23-Year-Old Commoner, A New Life In The Limelight

September 13, 1989

TOKYO (AP) _ Kiko Kawashima and her parents, a college professor and a housewife, sat down to a private dinner with their future in-laws - the emperor and empress of Japan.

The dinner Tuesday at the Akasaka Palace in central Tokyo capped a hectic day for the Kawashimas that began with a meeting of top government officials to discuss whether their daughter was worthy of marrying into the world’s oldest imperial family.

As the 10-member Imperial Household Council, headed by Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, met at the palace, a battalion of reporters and cameramen staked out the Kawashimas’ small apartment on the campus of Tokyo’s prestigious Gakushuin University.

By 11 a.m. it was official. The 23-year-old Miss Kawashima was engaged to marry Prince Aya, the second son of Emperor Akihito and second in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

After announcing the engagement, Shoichi Fujimori, head of the Imperial Household Agency and a member of the council, said the decision was unanimous and added that he hoped a date for the wedding could be set ″as soon as possible.″

Ceremonies related to the wedding will not be held until after Jan. 7, end of a one-year mourning period for Aya’s grandfather, Emperor Hirohito, who died at age 87 after a 62-year reign.

When Prince Aya and his fiance met reporters for a news conference broadcast live nationwide Tuesday afternoon, Miss Kawashima, already dubbed the ″Apartment Princess″ by the press for her humble background, spoke hestitantly, often shyly glancing at her fiance and clearly self-conscious about her future role.

″My father told me that it was my life, and a decision that I should make after careful thought,″ she said. Her father, Tatsuhiko, teaches economics at Gakushuin, the alma mater of much of Japan’s royalty.

But Prince Aya said he had proposed to Miss Kawashima on June 26, 1986, a year after they first met at Gakushuin, where they were both students, and had long awaited the day their romance could be made public.

″I was taking her home after a get-together that evening, and I asked her while we were stopped for a light at a crosswalk,″ the prince said.

Aya is to complete postgraduate studies in zoology at Oxford University’s St. John’s College next June, and some palace watchers have speculated the two may live in England for a short time after they are wed.

″As soon as things settle here, I hope to return to England because I have much research I hope to do there,″ Aya said.

Unlike the staid and proper crown prince, Aya is known to the Japanese for his mustache, yellow Volkswagen ″Beetle″ and gold bracelet, which he wore to the afternoon conference.

The engagement of Aya and the ″Apartment Princess″ is being hailed as another opening of the ″Crysanthemum Curtain″ that has kept Japanese royalty apart from the public.

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