Small Town Savors Princess Connection

THE princess lived here.

Belmont, Mass., a town of 26,000 just west of Boston, never expected to be the focus of the Japanese media. But when the announcement was made that Masako Owada would wed Crown Prince Naruhito on June 9, Japanese press descended on this small town where the future crown princess and her family lived from 1979 to 1981.

Film rolled and cameras clicked. One Japanese magazine shot a 50-page fashion special all in Belmont.

Paul Graham, manager of Champions Sporting Goods, says three Nippon television crews have been in his store. They interviewed him, his daughter, his wife, and the store owner. "One of my sons was at the high school at the same time she was," Mr. Graham says. "I think it's good for the town; it's going to be good for the merchants," he says, referring to the publicity that has brought a steady trickle of Japanese tourists to town. The store sells T-shirts that read "Belmont, Massachusetts, Home of Princes s Masako" and have her picture on them.

Although many US press accounts have made it seem as if Japanese tourists have poured into Belmont by busloads, the only real onslaught has been by the Japanese press. According to Peter Dale of DL Transnational Associates, Inc., the travel tours his company has arranged were primarily for press groups.

The word from Shoko Hirao, Japanese marketing specialist at Massachusetts Port Authority, is wait and see. There was a rumor that the couple's honeymoon might include a stop in the Cambridge/Belmont area. If that proves true, "honeymoon" packages may be great sellers to Japanese tourists, she says.

"Six months ago, Belmont wasn't on the map as far as being a hot attraction," says Ashley McCown with the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. Because of the interest generated by the Japanese press, people have latched onto Belmont, she says.

All this leads to the question of what comes first, the tourists or the marketing?

Most of Belmont's townspeople interviewed for this article indicated that while the brouhaha might seem a bit overblown at times, it's fun to have the attention.

"It's exciting. Little Belmont will be remembered," says Carin Weiner, owner of Windsor Travel. In her storefront is a sign that reads: "Belmont and Windsor Travel Welcome Japan, Summer 1993." She and other women in the office say they're looking forward to the day of the wedding, when the Belmont Women's Club will celebrate by hosting a gala concert and reception.

Still, there are some who prefer to ignore the hoopla, especially privacy-seeking residents on beautiful Juniper Road, where the Owada family once lived. One store clerk, who asked that her name not be used, scoffed: "I think it's pathetic. She only lived here for two years. The town is looking at it as a way to make money."

Belmont High School is one of three tourist spots chosen by the town's board of selectmen for people interested in the princess. The other two are Belmont Public Libary (which is displaying special books about Japan) and Belmont center, where several merchants are offering an information guide (English and Japanese versions) and a few Belmont souvenirs.

Lillian Katz, a longtime teacher in Belmont who instructed Ms. Owada and her twin sisters in English, will travel to Japan with her husband to present a town proclamation. It states that the town of Belmont is "deeply proud of its relationship with the future Crown Princess of Japan" and extends "its warmest congratulations" to Owada and her entire family on the occasion of the wedding. "We're all thrilled," Ms. Katz says.

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