The Prince as Traveler, Student, and Sportsman

IT'S not easy being an emperor in the wings.

The quest by Crown Prince Naruhito for Princess Right has been an embarrassing public event for over six years. It's about all that many Japanese know about the man who will be 127th "Son of Heaven."

At the age of 27, in 1987, he announced that he wanted to be married when he hit 30. A few years later he told reporters he had reached "the seventh or eighth station" on his ascent to the nuptial summit. He took his time, noting that Britain's Prince Charles married late.

One sensational Japanese magazine suggested Naruhito might find a mate sooner if he changed his hair and offered 10 doctored photos of him with different styles.

That kind of coverage was enough for the imperial agency to demand a news blackout on the crown prince's courting in 1992.

He was further embarrassed in 1990 when his younger brother, Prince Akishino, married before him and then fathered a baby girl.

And he caused worried looks among conservative Japanese when he took an interest in Brooke Shields, who was invited as a guest to the palace.

Last January, just before his 33rd birthday, Naruhito finally announced that he would marry Masako Owada, who held his heart since they first met in 1986. The long climb was over.

An emperor-to-be cannot be faulted for not meeting enough young women. Not only is Naruhito somewhat cloistered in a unique profession that few women want to join, but he also appears to have sought true love instead of an arranged marriage. That desire was probably a result of being raised by his parents instead of by imperial handlers, as past emperors were.

Another unique characteristic of Naruhito is how well traveled he is, having visited places from Bhutan to Brazil. Because of these experiences, he insisted on a wife who is internationally minded.

After graduating from Gakushuin University in 1982, he went to England to study at Merton College of Oxford University, where he researched 18th-century transport on the Thames River. He also spent time traveling around Europe, like a bird let out of a cage.

Short in stature and soft-spoken, the imperial heir carries himself regally and seems unencumbered by a life of etiquette and rituals. He often climbs mountains, plays the viola, and continues his academic studies and interest in various sporting activities.

He became direct heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne when his grandfather, Hirohito (now called Showa), died in 1989.

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