The Japanese imperial family conducts a sober New Year's ceremony

Japan’s Princess Aiko makes her debut: Emperor’s daughter, 20, joins her family for New Year’s ceremony in first official royal duty since coming of age

  • Imperial family’s  New Year ceremony in Tokyo was 20-year-old princess Aiko’s first ever official royal duty 
  • Every year, the household hold a reception marking the new year, known as Shinnen Shukuga-no Gi
  • For her first ever royal appearance since turning 20, Aiko donned a beautiful white dress, but no tiara
  • Cousin Princess Mako, 30, renounced royal title in order to marry her common boyfriend and moved to the US

Princess Aiko of Japan carried out her first official royal engagement since coming of age as she joined her family for the traditional New Year’s ceremony in Tokyo. 

Aiko, the only child of Emperor Naruhito, 61 and Empress Masako, 58, turned 20 in December, the age at which imperial family members officially begin their public life. It means she will now take on royal duties alongside senior family members.    

On January 1, demure Aiko took part in the annual Shinnen Shukuga-no Gi in Tokyo, a reception where the most senior members of the Imperial household ring in the new year in front of illustrious guests. 

Attendees included Naruhito’s brother, the Crown Prince Fumihito Akishino, best known as Prince Akishino, his wife Princess Kiko and their daughter and Kako, 27. Their other daughter, Mako, 30, quit royal life last year when she married her commoner university sweetheart, forcing her to renounce her title and duties. 

For her first foray into public life, Aiko donned a white dress, white gloves and a pearl necklace. She was not, however, wearing a tiara.

The reception used to be the occasion for the women of the imperial family to don glitzy jewels and tiaras, however, since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, Naruhito has dialed back the bling in favour of more discreet looks. 

Aiko, the only child of Emperor Naruhito, 61 and Empress Masako, 58, turned 20 in December, marking her coming of age. It means she can now take on royal duties alongside senior family members. She took part in the Shukuga-no Gi on January 1

Princess Aiko, pictured left, led other female members of the imperial family during the celebration. The women all dressed in demure white gowns, gloves and decided not to sport their traditional tiaras

Emperor Nahurito and Empress Masako led the senior members of the imperial household into the reception, followed by Crown Prince Akishino and Princess Aiko

Aiko looked poised during her first royal engagement, wearing a delicate white dress adorn with the imperial family’s sash and the white gloves that women of the Imperial Household always don for this ceremony. 

Her hair were styled in a neat bun, miles away from the long and straight hair she sported in previous pictures released in recent years.   

The debutante was also wearing a discreet pearl necklace and matching earrings, jus like her mother, aunts and cousins, who also attended. 

She stood at the left of her parents, who faced their guests on a small stage. 

The imperial couple looked relaxed and poised. Nahurita was wearing an elegant black suit and white shirt, as well as his Imperial honours. Masako wore a floor-length white dress with long sleeves and donned a bun similar to her daughter’s.

Usually, crows gather under the balcony of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo to catch a glimpse of the emperor and his family, however, for the second time in a row, Naruhito chose to address his people by video message, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

 After the ceremony, Aiko looked poised as she left the other women of the imperial household out of the room, which include Princess Nobuko of Mikasa, Princess Akiko of Mikasa and Princess Yoko of Mikasa

Aiko, who is the only child of Nahurito and Masako, stood to their left during the ceremony, which takes place each year in Tokyo 

The imperial couple walk past Crown Prince Fumihito, Prince Akishino, right, and Princess Kako of Akishino, left, at the end of the ceremony 

The ceremony, which was smaller and quieter than usual due to Covid-19, marked Aiko’s discreet foray into public life, after spending her childhood and teenage years out of the spotlight. 

Little is known about the princess, who suffered a difficult period of bullying and anxiety during her childhood which saw her dropping out of school.

On Aiko’s eighth birthday, it was revealed her interests included calligraphy, jump rope, and writing poetry.

Meanwhile it was also revealed she grew up playing both piano and violin.

However in 2010, she was in the press after it emerged she was spending a period away from school after suffering anxiety over the ‘wild behaviour’ of fellow schoolboys. 

Wearing a face mask throughout the event in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Aiko, whose dress was adorned with the imperial sash, looked pensive

In recent years, the women of the imperial household have been wearing less jewellery at the Shinnen Shukuga-no Gi New Year celebration ceremony

She failed to attend the end-of-year graduation ceremony a and was also absent for a welcoming ceremony for her fellow new third grade students.

She began attending school for just three hours a day, accompanied by her mother, and took other days off complaining of a cold.

At the time, Palace officials said the princess was having private tuition while not at school.

Only male heirs descended from a male emperor are eligible for the throne. The family currently has three male heirs: Crown Prince Akishino, Prince Hisahito and Prince Hitachi

A year later, she was hospitalised for pneumonia after suffering from a persistent high temperature of around 102.2F and a cough.

On her return to school, she began playing cello as a member of the school orchestra and learning English.

However in 2016, fears were raised again for Aiko’s health after she missed a month of school due to fatigue brought on by exam stress.

Palace officials confirmed the teenager had been complaining of stomach problems and dizziness, which they attributed to studying for exams as well as practising for an athletics event.

Official images released to mark her 15th birthday sparked concern in the country, with the royal appearing frail in the photographs.

By the summer of 2018, she made her first solo trip abroad to attend a summer program at Eton College.

Aiko now studies Japanese literature, along with taking additional language courses in English and Spanish, at Gakushuin University in Tokyo.

Her grandfather, Emperor Emeritus Akihito and uncle, Crown Prince Akishino, also attended the university.

She is also known for her love of animals, having ridden horses since she was a child.

She walks her dog, Yuri, and has raised silkworms since elementary school days.

Her high school graduation paper was titled, ‘Cats and dogs in the Heian Period through literature.’

A statement previously released by the Imperial Household described Aiko as hardworking and said she sometimes turned to her father and mother, Empress Masako, for help with her assignments, according to the Japan Times.

when she will wear a second-hand tiara first worn by Sayako to celebrate the milestone.

Sayako, formerly Princess Sayako, is the only sister of Emperor Naruhito, and wore the tiara during her fifteen years of being a working member of the imperial family.

However, she hasn’t sported the glittering piece since 2005, when in November that year she married Yoshiki Kuroda, an urban planner working for the city of Tokyo.

The reception took place in front of a selected group of guests which was smaller than in previous years, due to the Coronavirus pandemic 

Aiko stood proudly to the left of her parents while the imperial household was greeted by their guests during the official ceremony 

At her wedding, Sayako, who is currently the Supreme Priestess at the Ise Grand Shrine, lost her imperial status due to a rule that strips imperial princesses of their titles if they choose to marry commoners.

Sayako still owns her tiara since it was reportedly made with funds from her father’s living expense allowance, rather than paid for by public funds.

But the move to borrow the ‘hand-me-down’ piece to Aiko has apparently caused some surprise, according to The Court Jeweller, after the princess’ cousins received new jewels.

The blog, written by American historian and royal expert Lauren Kiehna, reported that the Imperial Household Agency did not set aside money in the annual budget for a new tiara and jewels as a cost-saving measure amid the pandemic.

After the ceremony, Emperor Nahurito, Empress Masako and Princess Aiko went to visit Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko at the Sento palace 

The tiara is being adjusted to fit Aiko’s head better ahead of her coming of age ceremonies – which will not include the usual banquet or any similar type of gathering due to the Covid crisis.

Despite being the only child of the Emperor, who ascended the throne in May 2019, Japanese laws favouring male heirs means Aiko is not in the line of succession.

Instead Aiko will be passed over in favour of her uncle, Crown Prince Fumihito, while his two eldest children Mako and Kako lose out to their younger brother, Prince Hisahito, 15.

There is only one other man – the Emperor’s 85-year-old uncle, Prince Hitachi – who is eligible under current rules.

However it appears the Japanese public is ready for a change. A poll conducted by Kyodo News in October 2019 revealed 81.9 percent of the public are in favour of a reigning Empress. 

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