The evening broadcast of the Yomiuri Giants baseball game, required viewing for a large part of Japan's populace, was well under way. All of a sudden the cameras left the pitcher standing on the mound and switched to a live broadcast of an airplane rolling to a stop at Osaka International Airport. Irate viewers did not call to complain. After all, the arrival of Britain's Prince and Princess of Wales clearly took precedence. The six-day visit, which ended yesterday, even battled the daily escalation of the yen's value for first place on the evening news.
The Japanese mass media dubbed the reaction to the royal visit ``Diana fever'' -- leaving no doubt as to which half of the famous couple is receiving the most attention.
Charles and Diana were greeted warmly by enthusiastic crowds wherever they went, including 100,000 Tokyoites, who lined downtown streets to catch a glimpse of them passing by in an open limousine.
The most avid followers of the tour have been Japanese women of all ages. They have been the target of a publicity blitz mounted by the mass media, department stores, and the fashion industry -- all of whom are unabashedly trying to create a commercial bonanza out of the visit.
The major television networks began airing specials on the royal couple as early as February. Newspapers tried to build momentum with articles on everything from ``Di fashion'' to features on ``Britain and its royal family.'' Three books rolled off the presses, including ``The Cinderella Story'' and the ``Princess Diana Encyclopedia.''
Women's magazines did the most extensive job of building up the visit. A total of 11 special editions of such magazines devoted solely to the Prince and Princess of Wales have been issued. The magazines contain articles instructing women on how to put on makeup, dress, and fix their hair like Diana.
One large glossy magazine, Shukan Josei (Weekly Women), even produced a comic-book version of the royal romance. Drawn in the classic manga (Japanese comics) style, it sketches a sentimental portrait of a lonely schoolteacher who falls in love with the Prince and, naturally, lives happily ever after.
These consumers are also the target of the major department stores in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, the cities the royal couple visited this week. The stores are bedecked with British flags and are holding ``British fairs'' that feature special sales of products from Britain. Most of them are sponsoring simultaneous photo exhibitions: Isetan Department Store is showing photos of Diana from infancy to motherhood.
The stores are hoping for a sales boom.
``Once the `young and beautiful' Princess arrives in Japan, it will be inevitable,'' predicted Satoshi Ogawa, an official of Takashimaya Department Store, before the visit. The stores competed fiercely for the bonus of a royal visit to their premises, an honor won by Tokyo's Mitsukoshi Department Store.
Many other businesses attempted to grab a share of the royal glamour. Television saleswomen told their viewers to call in and order copies of ``Princess Diana jewelry.'' The national telephone company issued telephone cards -- used to make calls on pay phones -- with portraits of the Prince and Princess of Wales. The fashion industry is reportedly gearing up to produce copies of the outfits she wore during her visit here.
But the tour was by no means all commercialism. The visit began with tours of ancient temples and gardens in the old imperial capital of Kyoto, with Prince Hiro -- second in line to the Japanese throne and a recent graduate of Oxford -- serving as the royal couple's special guide.
Prince Charles delivered a speech to a joint session of the Japanese Diet (parliament) yesterday in which he told Japanese lawmakers that Japan ``has a unique role to play in terms of mediations in the religious, racial, or ideological conflicts which plague the world.''