THE WORLD’s oldest hereditary monarchy may soon have its first Irish-accented royal with the news that Princess Mako, granddaughter of Japan’s reigning emperor, will attend university in Dublin this summer.
A spokesman for Japan’s Imperial Household Agency said the princess, a first-year liberal arts student at Tokyo’s International Christian University, will study English at University College Dublin in July and August.
“Princess Mako has a very special interest in Irish culture,” said the anonymous spokesman. The Tokyo university has a long-standing student-exchange programme with UCD.
The imperial Irish visit is part of a mini-tradition: Princess Mako's grandmother, Empress Michiko, was partly educated in Tokyo by Irish nuns – she studied Irish history, language and literature and is something of a Hibernophile. Empress Michiko speaks passable Gaelic, plays the harp and has been known to recite I See His Blood Upon The Roseby executed 1916 leader Joseph Plunkett as a party piece, according to Wherever Green is Worn, Tim Pat Coogan's book on the Irish Diaspora.
She is a famous fan of the Children of Lirand counts among her friends the poet Séamus Heaney, who she first met in Tokyo in 1987. During a state visit to Ireland in 2005, she and her husband Emperor Akihito dropped into the Nobel laureate's home in Dublin. The shy 18-year-old daughter of Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, Mako has grown up in an imperial cocoon, protected by one of Japan's most conservative and secretive bureaucracies.
Most Japanese people have never heard her speak and have viewed her only through the prism of official, carefully controlled TV pictures released at key moments in her life. During her early teens, a widely circulated internet video of her in a school sailor outfit sparked controversy until the Imperial Household ruled that it wasn’t disrespectful.
The spokesman said she would be subject to normal security protocols in Dublin but would otherwise be expected to mingle with other students. Will she be allowed to go out with Irish boys? “That’s not the sort of irresponsible question I can answer,” he replied testily.
None of Japan’s modern royals has ever dated a foreigner. During a debate on imperial succession in 2006, former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma sparked controversy when he warned that Mako’s first cousin, Princess Aiko, could sully the family’s 2,600-year bloodline by going abroad and marrying a “blue-eyed foreigner”.
The debate on whether to allow a female emperor to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne was scrapped after Mako’s mother gave birth to a male heir, Prince Hisahito. Princess Mako’s little brother, now three, is third in line. His older sister will become a commoner when she marries. Princess Mako is “looking forward” to her Irish trip, said the spokesman, who added he hoped she would make friends in Dublin.