BY the age of 3, in 1966, Masako Owada was doing what few Japanese dare do: She was becoming international.
Her diplomat father, Hisashi Owada, was posted in Moscow, and his daughter was learning Russian along with Japanese. Two years later, the family was in New York and she was learning English in a suburban public school.
After eight years abroad, she came back to her native Japan in 1971 and entered an elite Roman Catholic school. As an animal-lover, she had dreams of being a veterinarian.
By 1979, her father moved again, this time to Harvard University, while his eldest daughter attended Belmont High School in suburban Boston, where she excelled in softball. She then entered Harvard College, earning a bachelor's degree with magna cum laude honors and writing a thesis on how Japan coped with the two oil shocks. Along the way, she became fluent in French and German.
After returning to Tokyo in 1985, she decided that she had missed out on some Japanese culture, especially that deemed necessary for women, so she studied cooking, the tea ceremony, and flower arranging.
After studying law at Tokyo University for a few months, she decided to take the foreign-service exam. She wanted to follow in her father's footsteps.
With her international background and elite education, she had no problem passing the difficult test and was soon a rising star in the foreign ministry.
Her father has become Japan's top career diplomat. Her mother, Yumiko Owada, is a Keio University graduate and the daughter of the former chairman of Chisso Corporation, a chemical company.
Colleagues of the princess-to-be describe her as witty, hard-working, bright, and self-effacing. With qualities like that, she was soon put on a list by the imperial agency as a potential mate for the crown prince. She also likes skiing, as does he. Former Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe described Owada as a "modern, outstanding woman, suitable for the palace."
But like many other candidates, she was scared of the intense media scrutiny. In 1988, she went to Oxford University for more studies and returned two years later to the ministry to work on economic relations with the United States. She acted as interpreter and prepared papers on trade disputes, such as market access for US lawyers and semiconductors.
She resigned from her job in January, soon after the announcement of the engagement, to prepare herself for a career as empress. A fancy dresser who likes pearl necklaces, Owada soon became a fashion idol to many young Japanese women.
Her father, meanwhile, may soon become Japan's next United Nations ambassador.