IMPERIAL FAMILY WATCH: Princess Aiko just a girl like any other

December 06, 2013

By YASUHIKO SHIMA/ Staff Writer

Editor's note: This is the third article of The Asahi Shimbun Digital's series on the Japanese imperial family, intended to depict the true faces of the emperor, empress and other family members, based on reporters' daily close watch on them.

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Princess Aiko, the only daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, is often portrayed in the media as an unsmiling young girl who shows little emotion.

But actually, she is just like any child of her age--often uncertain about how to react in front of a large group of strangers. That is probably how the 12-year-old views the throng of reporters and photographers who cover the imperial family.

A recent example of the many emotions that Aiko is capable of displaying came on Oct. 12 during a school athletic meet at Gakushuin Primary School, located in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward.

Media representatives were only allowed to cover Aiko for 10 minutes or so as she took part in group calisthenics during the meet. Still, during that short time, Aiko displayed all sorts of feelings.

As the theme song from "Ponyo," the animation movie directed by Hayao Miyazaki, was heard through loudspeakers, children holding hula hoops assembled into the center of the school yard. Sixth-graders were preparing to do their group calisthenics in which students work together to form various shapes through their bodily poses.

Because of her height and slender legs, Aiko was not difficult to pick out of the crowd of 120 sixth-graders.

The first form created was the "cactus," in which one student stands on the knees of another while being supported by the student below. Aiko had a serious expression as she put strength into her arms to hold up her partner.

Other forms created included the pairing of students with one holding the other's ankle while that student stood on his or her hands. Groups of five students also created a fan while standing and holding hands as the outermost students supported themselves with one hand on the ground.

The students then formed a three-layered pyramid. As each form was successfully completed, Aiko smiled along with her classmates.

The theme song of a popular Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) drama was the sign to dance while using the hula hoops. Aiko seemed to enjoy herself as she jumped in rhythm with the music.

The last form for the sixth-graders was creating a large pyramid. The students had practiced that form since the first term. Aiko was not only at the bottom layer of the seven-layered pyramid, she was also dead center of the structure. Aiko was on her hands and knees on the ground as her classmates created the pyramid on top of her. The pyramid was completed when the last student climbed to the top and stood up with both hands raised.

The crowd cheered and applauded.

With the completion of the calisthenics, Aiko laughed along with her classmates and left the grounds.

Her mother was watching from under a tent and it looked like she was fighting back tears. The crown prince, sitting beside his wife, whipped out his favorite camera to snap photos of their daughter.

For a short period before and after the group calisthenics, reporters were allowed to observe what Aiko did. She cheered on younger students during their races and moved her arms as though she was running. She also clapped and cheered on other students who were rolling a gigantic ball through the school yard. She even seemed to be joking around with boys in her class.

There have been other events where Aiko showed her emotions.

In April, a concert was staged at an auditorium in Tokyo's Mejiro district. Current and past students of the various Gakushuin schools took part. Aiko played the cello in the primary school orchestra. Her father, Naruhito, played the viola in the orchestra made up of Gakushuin alumni. The first joint music performance by father and daughter was widely reported in the media.

Before the start of the performance, Aiko talked with friends. They laughed while pointing at something and Aiko seemed to scowl in a joking manner.

However, when it came time for photographers to take photos, the smile vanished from Aiko's face.

Even in public, Aiko appears truly happy when she is attending an event that really interests her. A good example of this was in September 2006 when she watched sumo matches live for the first time.

Aiko is a huge fan of sumo and has memorized the names of wrestlers and where they are from. Whenever Naruhito tells Aiko about an upcoming visit he will be taking, she tells her father that is where a certain wrestler is from.

She used binoculars to take in the sumo action and recorded the results of each bout.

There have also been times when she was evidently surprised by all the attention lavished on her.

In April 2008, Aiko attended the school entrance ceremony at Gakushuin Primary School with her parents. When they appeared at the main gate, Aiko initially seemed perplexed by the large number of media representatives. Then Masako whispered something to Aiko, and the little girl smiled. Her parents were also visibly pleased and relieved at Aiko's smile.

As Aiko has advanced into higher grades, she seems to smile less for the media. But maybe that just reflects she is growing up.

In September 2004, the Imperial Household Agency released a rare video of Aiko taken by Naruhito.

It is highly unusual for imperial family members to release photos or videos of themselves in private, relaxing moments.

Moreover, the video contained snippets of conversation and background noise that are not normally included in the images released every year to mark her birthday.

Imperial Household Agency officials said the video was released in response to speculative reports that had appeared in weekly magazines and the foreign media concerning Aiko's development. Masako was deeply distressed by the coverage.

One former aide to the crown prince's household reflected back on that time, saying, "I believe that represented a 'scream' on the part of the couple wanting to show the true side of Aiko."

By YASUHIKO SHIMA/ Staff Writer
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Princess Aiko, center, and her classmates form a fan in group calisthenics performed as part of the school athletic meet at Gakushuin Primary School in October. (Pool)

Princess Aiko, center, and her classmates form a fan in group calisthenics performed as part of the school athletic meet at Gakushuin Primary School in October. (Pool)

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  • Princess Aiko, center, and her classmates form a fan in group calisthenics performed as part of the school athletic meet at Gakushuin Primary School in October. (Pool)
  • Princess Aiko takes part in the school athletic meet at Gakushuin Primary School in October. (Pool)
  • Princess Aiko takes part in a tug-of-war competition as a fourth-grader at Gakushuin Primary School in October 2011. (Pool)
  • Princess Aiko takes part in a folk dance as a third-grader at Gakushuin Primary School in October 2010. (Pool)
  • Princess Aiko celebrates her team's victory in a relay race when she was a second-grader at Gakushuin Primary School in October 2009. (Pool)
  • Princess Aiko attends the school entrance ceremony at Gakushuin Primary School on April 10, 2008, along with her parents, Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako. (Pool)
  • Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako watch a performance by their daughter, Princess Aiko, during an athletic meet at Gakushuin Kindergarten in October 2007. (Pool)
  • Princess Aiko watches bouts at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament in September 2006 along with her parents, Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako. (Pool)
  • Crown Princess Masako plays with her daughter, Princess Aiko, at their Tokyo residence. (Provided by the Imperial Household Agency)
  • Six-month-old Princess Aiko (Provided by the Imperial Household Agency)

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