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JAPAN WATCH : Unusual Betrothal

January 08, 1993

Japanese princesses are traditionally demure and subservient. So it comes as a surprise that the shy Crown Prince Naruhito has chosen a thoroughly modern career woman as his bride.

His intended, Masako Owada, the daughter of a top Japanese diplomat, spent her childhood in the Soviet Union and the United States. Harvard-trained, she also studied economics at Oxford.

She is a career diplomat who is fluent in four languages. After the wedding, the new crown princess' diplomatic skills and language abilities should allow her to bring a new internationalism to Tokyo's royal household.

Although an increasing number of Japanese women work outside of the home, Owada will be the first woman with a career to become crown princess. Already she is being compared to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will be the first professional woman to become First Lady. Both women shatter stereotypes.

Even Owada is not likely to challenge the Japanese tradition that compels a woman to give up career for marriage and place her life in the shadow of the husband and, in this case, of the cloistered royal family. But this professional woman definitely has a mind of her own and, unlike other royal brides--England's Princess Diana comes quickly to mind--Owada is not barely out of her teens. At 29, she is close to the age of her fiance, who is 32 and has spent the last five years searching for a mate. But even in the traditional Japanese princess role, she is likely to set a new standard for women of her generation--and generations to come.

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