She was a 33-year-old worldly diplomat with an economics degree from Harvard. He was the heir to the world's oldest hereditary monarchy with an unbroken line.
The June 9, 1993 wedding of Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito to diplomat's daughter Masako Owada was a traditional and elaborate Shinto ceremony witnessed by 800 guests and a television audience estimated at 500 million.
The ceremony, with its elaborate traditions of waxed bridal wigs and heavy kimonos, was an occasion fitting the marriage of the oldest son of reigning Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, leaders of the centuries-old Chrysanthemum Throne.
Beyond the public spectacle, the bride and groom had an intriguing private relationship. The career-minded princess-to-be was a reluctant bride, her royal fiancé a devoted and persistent suitor.
Princess Masuko, spoke at least five languages, when the then Tokyo University student first met the crown prince at a tea for Princess Elena of Spain. The prince recalled being immediately taken with the learned daughter of the the former vice foreign minister of Japan. "She is so pleasant, she makes me unaware of the passing of time," he would say of the first impression.
The couple were known to be courting as early as 1986, but a corporate pollution scandal that dishonored her grandfather, Chisso Corp. Chairman Yutaka Egashira, seemed to have removed her from early consideration as a suitable royal bride. The crown prince, however, continued to quietly see her.
The couple spent years courting, always in the presence of chaperons. The princess is said to have turned down at least two proposals from her future groom before finally accepting in December 1992. Royal lore has it a phone call from the empress, promising no "mother-in-law" meddling, sealed the deal.
Despite Prince Naruhito's obvious respect for his wife's accomplishments, she was tradition-bound to give up both her job and right to vote upon marriage. Newsweek recounts that on her wedding day Princess Masoko "virtually disappeared" under the traditional waxed wigs and 30 pounds of ceremonial garments, including two layered kimonos, created for her by Japanese designer Hanae Mori. The garments were said to be similar to the ceremonial attire worn by women dating back to the 10th century Hein dynasty.
In December 2001, after eight years of marriage and reports of infertility and a miscarriage, Princess Masako gave birth to a daughter, Princess Aiko. Prince Naruhito broke tradition by being the first crown prince present in the delivery room for the birth of his child.
Since Princess Aiko remains the couples only child, her birth began a decade of ongoing debate over the future of the male-only line of succession to the throne.
Princess Masako, meanwhile, has struggled for years with what has been publicly acknowledged as an "adjustment disorder," widely believed to be depression, and has spent most of the last decade in isolation. Her husband boldly criticized the Imperial Household for forcing his wife to lead a life that "negated her career and personality." Despite some public pressure for them to divorce, the couple remain married and Princess Masako has gradually resumed some of her royal duties and appearances, making headlines for hosting Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall for dinner or attending a national arts event.