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Who is Sayako Kuroda, the former Princess Nori of Japan?

Sayako Kuroda was born on 18 April 1969 as the first daughter and third child of the then Crown Prince Akihito and then Crown Princess Michiko. Her grandfather, Emperor Shōwa, named her Sayako and gave her the title of The Princess Nori. From birth, she was also entitled to the style of Imperial Highness.

According to her mother, Sayako was born two weeks before expected and was a genuinely sweet child. She was said to enjoy the nature around Togu Palace, the residence of her parents as the Crown Princely Couple. From childhood, her light way of facing life led her father to call her later “Miss Don’t Mind”. Empress Michiko has also talked about how Princess Sayako felt restricted in some moments of her life due to her position as an Imperial Princess. The Princess always had the support of both her family and in the absence of her parents, the Palace’s staff is said to have really helped her.

The Crown Prince Family in 1969. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan/CC BY 4.0/Wikimedia Commons

Gakushūin -previously the Imperial Household Ministry-, an institution also attended by her father, brothers and many other members of the Imperial Family, was where Sayako studied through her primary, secondary and university education. Princess Nori graduated in 1992 with a Bachelor of Letters degree in the Japanese Language and Literature; later that same year she enrolled at the Yamashina Institute of Ornithology, subsequently becoming a specialist in kingfishers.

On January 1989, Sayako’s father ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne following the death of her grandfather, Emperor Shōwa. Three months later, she became of age and started to perform her engagements as an adult member of the Imperial Family. She was made a Grand Cordon of the Order of the Precious Crown by her father.

In the following years, Princess Nori continued with her career as an ornithologist, while simultaneously performing her duties as an Imperial Princess, a capacity in which she carried out many engagements, both in Japan and abroad. Countries that she visited in her official capacity include Peru, Bolivia, the United States, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ireland, Romania, Croatia, Uruguay and Honduras.

The Imperial Family with Emperor Akihito playing the cello, Empress Michiko playing the piano, and Crown Prince Naruhito playing the violin. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan/CC BY 4.0/Wikimedia Commons

On December 2004, the Imperial Household Agency announced the engagement of Sayako, Princess Nori to Yoshiki Kuroda. However, according to the Imperial Household Law of 1947, female members of the family have no succession rights to the Chrysanthemum Throne and must renounce to their titles, membership of the Imperial Family and allowance from the State.

The wedding was celebrated with a small ceremony on November 2005 with 30 guests, including members of the Imperial and Kuroda families, followed by a reception for 120 guests. The government of Japan granted the now Sayako Kuroda a dowry of approximately one million pounds, and she had driving lessons and learned how to shop at the supermarket in preparation for a new phase in her life.

Following her marriage, Sayako resigned from her job as an ornithologist to focus on her new life.

Sayako Kuroda has, since 2012, been involved in the Ise Shrine, which is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, as the assistant of the Highest Priestess, who at the time was Atsuko Ikeda – one of Emperor Akihito’s sisters. In 2017, Sayako took over from her 86-year-old aunt and became the Highest Priestess, a position that is always occupied by a current or former member of the Imperial Family of Japan.

Sayako Kuroda has, on occasion, attended a function at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo after her marriage, including the State Banquet during the Belgian State Visit in 2016.