by Susan Flantzer
Her Imperial Highness Princess Nori was born on April 18, 1969 at the Aoyama Detached Palace in Tokyo, Japan. She is the third of the three children and the only daughter of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko (born Michiko Shōda). Shortly after her birth, her grandfather Emperor Shôwa (Hirohito) named her Sayako and granted her the title Princess Nori (Nori no miya Sayako Naishinnô).
Princess Nori completed her primary and secondary education at Gakushūin whose original purpose, before World War II, was to educate members of the aristocracy including members of the Imperial Family. Members of the Imperial Family have continued to attend Gakushūin for their primary, secondary, and university education. Princess Nori continued her university education at Gakushuin University and she graduated from the Department of Japanese Literature in the Faculty of Letters in March 1992.
Gakushūin School Corporation Official Website
Later in 1992, Princess Nori started a career as a researcher at Yamashina Institute for Ornithology where she specialized in the study of kingfishers. The princess was also interested in traditional Japanese dance and performed several times at the National Theater. She also participated in activities related to the training and use of guide dogs for the visually impaired.
On December 30, 2004, the Imperial Household Agency announced the engagement of Princess Nori to Yoshiki Kuroda, a 40-year-old urban designer with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Princess Nori and Yoshiki Kuroda, a longtime friend of the princess’ brother Prince Akishino, had known each other since childhood, but were re-introduced by Prince Akishino in 2003. According to Article 12 of the Imperial Household Law of 1947, “In case a female of the Imperial Family marries a person other than the Emperor or a member of the Imperial Family, she shall lose the status of Imperial Family member.” Upon her marriage, Princess Nori would have to relinquish her title from birth, her official membership in the Imperial Family, and any monetary allowance from the state. After her marriage, Her Imperial Highness Princess Nori would be known as Sayako Kuroda. Three of Emperor Akihito’s sisters also were required to relinquish their membership in the Imperial Family upon their marriages.
On November 15, 2005, about 30 people from both families attended the Shinto wedding at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan, which has no relation to the Imperial Family. Princess Nori chose a white silk dress with a pearl necklace instead of the 12-layered “juni hitoe” wedding kimono traditionally worn by female members of the Imperial Family, and her groom wore a morning suit. The Emperor and Empress attended the wedding, as well as Crown Prince Naruhito, Crown Princess Masako, and other members of the Imperial Family.
The bride and groom held a news conference after the wedding ceremony at the hotel and Sayako expressed her intention to live a new life. “Holding memories of the days with my family in my mind, I am going to face a new life as a member of the Kuroda family,” she said. A reception that followed the news conference was attended by 130 guests.
Sayako and Yoshiki Kuroda started their life together at a condominium they rented near the palace. The government provided the couple with a one-time payment of 152.5 million yen or 1.29 million dollars. Sayako resigned from her job as an ornithologist to focus on her new life.
In 2012, Sayako was given the role of a sacred priestess at the Ise Shrine which recognizes the ancestral gods, specifically the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, from whom it is believed that the Imperial Family descended. She serves as an assistant to the highest priestess at the shrine, Atsuko Ikeda, who is Emperor Akihito’s older sister and who also had to relinquish her membership in the Imperial Family upon her marriage. The highest priestess serves the Sun Goddess, representing the Emperor. The title has always been held by a current or former member of the Imperial Family. Atsuko Ikeda presides over the shrine’s rituals, but needs assistance in her duties due to her old age.