Single Japanese Male, 31, crown prince of a guy, Oxford scholar, affable, cute, own palace, enjoys mountain climbing, jogging, tennis, playing the viola, sipping scotch and probably a lot of stuff he's not allowed to do, such as club-hopping, seeks bride, 21-31. Must be Buddhist or Shinto, virgin, intelligent, attractive, well-bred and able to pass muster with 1,100-member bride-selection committee. Very short woman preferred.

Yes, a whole nation is engaged in getting Naruhito engaged. When the bachelor prince of Japan, eldest son of Emperor Akihito and heir to the throne, officially rose to Crown Prince status on his 31st birthday last month, the country's magazines brought forth dozens of new candidates for wifehood, most of whom he hasn't met. The 5'4" Naruhito, who, says a relative, is "dying to get married," may be poring over the lists. But it will be up to the Imperial Household Agency, a commission of bureaucrats and aristocrats who make policy for Japan's imperial family, to vet the prospective bride's credentials first.

While the IHA is charged with finding a likely candidate, this particular prince is mucking up the works by insisting, as he told the press, on "meeting with her many times before deciding about marriage. I will need time to get to know and understand a possible life partner." Between them, the IHA and Prince Naruhito have reportedly rejected or been rejected by more than 80 possible fiancées in the last six years.

What's the holdup? Personally, Naruhito's not a bad sort, but asking one of Japan's newly rich, newly liberated young women to join the imperial family is something like telling Cornelia Guest to get herself to a nunnery. While industrial Japan has raced ahead in wealth and sophistication in recent years, the imperial family is still only inching into the modern world. Naruhito was the first Crown Prince to be raised by his parents instead of being entrusted, at the traditional age of 3, to royal tutors. He was also the first to study outside the country, at Oxford. (He's now doing research in marine transportation at Tokyo's Gakushuin University.) After observing England's Windsors on their handshaking walkabouts, Naruhito suggested that his family temper its intense isolation and high security, but to no avail. He is always surrounded by guards, on foot or in cars, and he is believed never to have had a serious romance.

His wife would be signing up for similar confinement. Early in her marriage, Naruhito's mother, the Empress Michiko, described her life as being ""enclosed by walls on all sides.... I bump into one wall after another." Little wonder that the Chanel-clad daughters of Japan's wealthiest families sniff at the thought of sharing a paltry annual allowance, estimated at a mere $1.9 million, with the five other members of the Crown Prince's immediate clan. In a recent poll, 75 percent of Tokyo's secretaries said they would turn poor Naruhito down.

Though the Crown Prince is now wisely declaring himself "in no hurry," here's a roundup of the current candidates, as proposed by the matchmaking Japanese press:

A favorite of Naruhito is said to be foreign-ministry official Masako Owada, 27, a diplomat's daughter. A 1985 Harvard grad, she has not been okayed by the IHA, which says her name has never come up.

Empress Michiko seems to favor, among others, her tennis-playing buddy Rumiko Yanagihara, 23, a clerk at Mitsubishi and the daughter of an aristocratic banker.

Eiko Mitsui, 21, has good technical specs. Three centimeters shorter than the Prince, she is, like him, intrigued by Japanese history and studies at the University of the Sacred Heart, his mother's alma mater.

Hiroko Hashimoto. 23, is a well-connected possibility. She is the daughter of one of Empress Michiko's college classmates and Japan's current finance minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto.

One who seems to hit all the marks is Naruhito's distant cousin Akiko Hisakuni, 27, who does not work, has studied in England, plays the violin and paints.

Given his druthers, convention be damned, the Crown Prince might well pick someone who reportedly enchanted him when they met during a Japanese business trip last summer. A 5'11" honey-haired, foreign-born Princeton graduate from a simple family, she is completely wrong in every way. 'Still, in a wedding kimono—as in everything she wears-Brooke Shields, 25, looks just right.

Louise Lague, Janice Fuhrman in Tokyo

  • Contributors:
  • Janice Fuhrman.