TOKYO -- Crown Prince Naruhito married commoner Masako Owada Wednesday in a Shinto ceremony steeped in tradition that officially ended his six-year courtship of the former diplomat once reluctant to give up her career.
Adorned in a 12-layer silk kimono weighing 30 pounds, Owada and Naruhito participated in the 'Kekkon-no-gi' ceremony before an altar enshrining the Sun Goddess, the guardian of the imperial family.
Nuptial frenzy reached its peak in Japan, with pictures of the royal couple draping shop windows and even subways. Most newspapers offered special editions for the wedding day, declared a national holiday.
All television stations were broadcasting live with the Nippon News Network saturating viewers with 14 hours of nonstop coverage starting at 5 a.m.
The festive mood was only marred by heightened security fears in the capital, where police launched one of the biggest operations ever with 30,000 men on the beat.
A projectile hit a police station near the bride's family home Tuesday night, sparking police suspicions that extremists opposing the wedding staged the attack. A policeman was slightly injured in his foot by broken glass.
Ultraleft radical groups have threatened to wage an armed attack on the royal motorcade in the afternoon when Naruhito, heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, and his bride drive through central Tokyo in an open-top limousine.
Police expected about 200,000 well-wishers to line the 2.6 mile drive to the couple's new home in the Togu Palace in central Tokyo, the same route the emperor and empress traveled by horse-drawn carriage after their nuptials in 1959.
'I feel so happy...I'd like to make efforts to fulfill my obligations as a princess by listening humbly to the advice' of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko,' Owada said.
A light rain didn't dampen the celebratory mood. Owada started preparations for the ceremonies more than three hours beforehand, with a hot bath in accordance with imperial purification rites. Ladies-in- waiting annointed her black hair with oil and wax before sweeping it back into a loose traditional ponytail. Her face was caked with white powder.
For the ceremony, Naruhito, holding a septer and dressed in the style of eighth-century rulers in a flaming orange robe, and Owada, with the top layer of her voluminous 11th century costume green with white flowers, solemnly proceeded down a hallway to the Kashikodokoro, the most sacred of three shrines in the Imperial Palace compound.
During the 15-minute rite starting at 10 a.m., the pair entered the inner sanctuary for their wedding vows to 'cherish one another eternally.' Naruhito intoned a matrimonial pledge in the form of a prayer and offered a sprig from a tree deemed sacred before the altar.
The couple moved to the outer sanctuary and drank cups of sacred sake offered to themby the chief ritualist, formalizing the marriage of the future emperor and empress of Japan in the oldest continuous family monarchy.
Japan's post-World War II constitution limits the emperor to serving 'as the symbol of the state and the unity of the people.' Until the end of the war carried out in the name of Naruhito's grandfather, the late Hirohito, the emperor was regarded as a living god.
After the ceremony the crown prince and his princess visited two adjoining sanctuarites to report the ending of the wedding to Naruhito's imperial ancestors.
Eight-hundred guests, including Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, Naruhito's younger brother Prince Akishino, his wife Princess Kiko, and other royal family members, the bride's relatives, government officials, lawmakers and Supreme Court justices observed from a garden. No foreigners were invited.
The only time the couple was visible to the outside world however was when they proceeded along the outer hallway to enter and exit the shrine.
Hojo Nakajima, the Imperial Household Agency's vice grand master, said it was 'the crown prince's wish that the ceremony be done in a quiet, dignified manner.'
Even Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, Naruhito's parents, did not attend the wedding although the emperor hosted the rite.
Members of the Japanese Communist Party boycotted the wedding. The party said the government was contravening a constitutional provision banning the state from religious activity in sponsoring the Shinto ceremonies. The government allocated 300 million yen (dlrs 2.8 million), maintaining there was no constitutional conflict.
Sadao Yamahana, chairman of the Social Democratic Party, the largest opposition group, also said it was regrettable the rite was carried out in a Shinto religious style, contravening the principle of separation of state and religion.
Ever since the engagement became official Jan. 19, Owada, educated at Harvard and Oxford universities with five languages at her command, has been viewed by many as the epitome of the modern Japanese woman relenting under societal pressure for the good of the country.
The daughter of a Japan's top career diplomat, Owada spent much of her youth living in Moscow and New York. Later she penetrated the predominantly male preserve of the diplomatic corps and worked in the Foreign Ministry's North America Division, where she was considered a likely candidate for an ambassadorship.
Finding a bride for Naruhito was becoming an embarrassment, with prospective candidates frightened away by the rigid, tradition-bound royal family or unwilling to surrender their new-found freedoms in the workforce.
Owada, whom Naruhito met at a tea party in 1986, held out until December.
Although Owada underwent 50-hours of instruction to prepare her for the rigors of court etiquette and rituals, palace insiders have questioned whether a woman of her education and intellect can adjust to the trappings of life in a monarchy dating back 1,500 years.
In a day packed with ritual, Owada, in a formal white gown and diamond-studded tiara, and Naruhito, also in formal Western attire, were scheduled to meet with the emperor and empress in an afternoon ceremony known as the choken-no-gi.
Following the 31-minute drive to the Togu Palace, the couple were to share their first meal together as crown prince and princess at 6 p.m.
The pair then participate in another rite three hours later in which celebratory rice cakes are offered along with prayers for the birth of a healthy boy.
Nothing riles feminists more than Japan's prohibition against a female heir to the throne. Lawmakers restricted imperial secession to male heirs in the 1880s because they believed an empress would detract from the authority of the crown. The couple will spend the first year of their married life in the provisional Togu Palace, using only seven rooms and 50 servants in accordance with their request to live 'as simply as possible,' officials said.
The princess won't even have a private kitchen. If she wants to whip up her favorite dish, lasagna and boiled radish, she will have to use the large kitchen used by the rest of the cooks.