Based in Toronto and New York City

, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Sayonara to the Single Life

            It’s true, the Japanese royals are a far cry from the jet-setting Grimaldis, or even frumpy Fergie and her virile Texan. They would rather hold after-dinner family concerts than go night-clubbing. Their passions run more to marine biology and history than yachting and polo. Going out on a limb to them means holding hands in public.

            Still, Prince Naruhito’s long-awaited marriage makes it clear that royalty is royalty, no matter how unglamorous, and that when an heir to the throne weds, the world swoons.

            As Japan prepares for the Wednesday imperial wedding of the Prince to commoner and former diplomat Masako Owada, the seasoned palace watcher can’t help but feel a shiver of nervous anticipation.

            Can these nerdy lovebirds resuscitate the battered institution of the royal marriage and restore pride to the outdated notion of royalty? Perhaps, but only if they—Masako, especially—heed the following do’s and don’ts, assembled from a careful study of the perils of being royal.

  • Don’t break down under the tough initial adjustment phase.

            Coping with honeymoon stress for Princess Diana meant raiding the galley of the royal yacht for ice cream. If you must sneak off to eat your favorite curry rice and gyoza, go ahead, but beware of the Royal Eating Disorder.

  • Don’t submit to paranoia…

            Even though they probably are talking about you, taping conversations and monitoring your every move.

  • Do make nice with your mother-in-law.

            Empress Michiko is more ally than enemy. Because she herself was bullied by imperial family and court members, she knows the ropes. Learn from her. Let her help you. Do lunch.

  • And Masako, don’t sell out.

            At least one acquaintance of yours doesn’t believe you’ll buckle under imperial pressure to conform. “A damn stubborn person” is the way Steve Clemons—executive director of the Japan America Society of Southern California—affectionately describes you. “She isn’t going to last long in all of these little knickknacks that they’re going to try to fit her into.”

            Other watchers of the Chrysanthemum Throne think you’ve already caved—that you were lost as soon as you donned the pillbox hat and the dowdy yellow dress. “She will suffocate if no one gives her a chance to open her window,” says Joi Takei a Japanese film producer living in Los Angeles.

            But Clemons believes you’re in the power position. “I give her three years and she’s going to start knocking down walls.”

  • If all gets to be too much and you must have a fling, do be discreet.

            Stay away from St. Tropez; the paparazzi are brutal there. Don’t even think about touching a mobile phone. And if you must talk to a paramour on the cordless, avoid embarrassing nicknames (Squidgy, Dibbs), kissy-face noises and love talk involving trousers and tampons.

  • Don’t resort to name-calling, no matter how bad things get and no matter how hateful your enemies.

            Diana calls her rival, Camilla Parker Bowles, “the Rottweiler.” Camilla refers to Di as “That ridiculous creature.” If you must, please put your Harvard degree to work and come up with something more creative.

  • Do be a trendsetter.

            Take advantage of your high profile, Masako. Where you once immersed yourself in international trade issues by grinding away on the diplomatic fast track, now you can affect the economy simply by getting dressed in the morning.

            Already you are flexing your new trade muscles. At the Little Tokyo department store, Yokohama Okadaya, manager and buyer Koji Matsumoto reports that your penchant for Paloma Picasso leather goods has set off a stampede for the bags. The store displays a framed photo of you carrying a Picasso tote bag, priced at $350. “She has class,” Matsumoto says, “so she doesn’t wear real flashy clothes.”

  • Do kiss babies, cut ribbons and walk among the people.

            Above all, do it with sincerity…or at least with a whisper. Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, blew her newfound goodwill when upon exiting a clinic where she had cuddled an AIDS baby, she said, “Thank God that’s over,” and then asked, “Who’s for a swim?”

  • And don’t fall for your bodyguard.

            Good luck, Prince and Masako-san, and if it doesn’t work out, see you on the French Riviera!

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