Scenes from An Uncommon Marriage: Japan's Prince Aya Weds a Cinderella Psych Major, Kiko Kawashima

updated 07/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/16/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The groom's parents were not permitted to attend. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko watched the ceremony on TV, along with the rest of Japan, as their second son, Prince Aya, 24, wed graduate student Kiko Kawashima, 23, at a Shinto shrine in the woods of the Imperial Palace grounds on June 29. The Imperial Household Agency, which rules like a dragon on matters of royal etiquette, bans the monarch from any palace event at which he would play second fiddle. Only later that day, after Princess Kiko had doffed her $229,000, multilayered kimono (which at 50 pounds weighed nearly half as much as she) for a white formal gown and diamond tiara and the Prince had changed from silk robes to a tailcoat, did the couple bow before the Emperor and officially report their marriage.

Then came a ceremonial meal—-the royals didn't eat but simply touched the fish cakes and rice with long chopsticks—and, as 30,000 fans cheered and 9,000 policemen guarded against terrorist attack, the newlyweds traveled via bulletproof car across Tokyo to their one-story house at the Akasaka Imperial Palace. The only hitch, as far as the IHA was concerned, was a widely published candid photo of Kiko smoothing her husband's hair. An enraged spokesman compared it to "a picture of the Prince with his pants down." But Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu said of the wedding, "It will be like a new wind blowing in the imperial household."

The daughter of an economics professor, Kiko is only the second commoner, after her mother-in-law, to marry into the monarchy. And though she underwent a month of training in imperial rites and classical poetry, the new Princess, who learned English as a girl in Philadelphia, where her father taught at the University of Pennsylvania, will keep her focus contemporary. She won the right from the IHA to continue to pursue a master's degree in psychology.

For his part, the Prince, an Oxford student in zoology, will evidently make a career of studying catfish. He has ruffled tradition by driving a bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle and by beating his 30-year-old brother, Crown Prince Naruhito, to the altar. Aya proposed to his college sweetheart four years ago while waiting for a traffic light to change. "I thought he was very open and frank for a Prince," says Kiko.

The Japanese adore their new Princess, whom they call Kiko-sama. Sales of her subdued clothing styles are booming, and her favorite book, a psychology text from 1976, has become a belated best-seller. Amorous couples do their courting at the couple's favorite pizza parlor.

The pair, on an annual allowance of about $271,000, will live with Western touches, wearing shoes in their one-bedroom house and working at side-by-side computers. But the IHA nixed their honeymoon choice of Thailand. Instead they were dispatched to Shinto shrines around Japan and then to the tomb of an ancient emperor—there to bow and "report" their marriage once more.

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