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Tokyo Dreaming (Tokyo Ever After #2)
Author: Emiko Jean

 


TOKYO TATTLER SPECIAL SUMMER EDITION

 

 

Love is in the air!

August 21, 2022

It was a blink-and-you-might-have-missed-it kind of moment. Late last evening, the usual crowd spilled into the streets after a Bunraku performance at the National Theatre. A couple darted through the crush and into a black sedan idling at the curb. It was His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince Toshihito, and his latest love interest, American Hanako Tanaka, mother to his illegitimate child, HIH Princess Izumi. The couple sat in general admission seats for the play. Those near them had no idea the Crown Prince was in their midst.

Thirty days ago, Ms. Tanaka arrived in Japan quietly via commercial airliner toting a fraying LeSportsac duffel and Tamagotchi, HIH Princess Izumi’s pet dog, a mutt with unknown breeding (a far cry from the purebred Shiba Inus the empress favors). “Both mom and dog are tearing up the palace,” a member of the imperial staff says. “Ms. Tanaka refuses to let any of the staff wait on her. The dog is a menace and smells foul.”

The Crown Prince has taken his lady love’s lead. He’s eschewed the heavier police escorts to venues, opting for unmarked vehicles and surprise visits instead. Gone are the imperial flags announcing the Crown Prince’s arrival, and the Imperial Household Agency’s rigidly prescheduled tours are a thing of the past. And in a stunning breach of imperial protocol, the couple has been openly affectionate—holding hands and whispering in each other’s ear while out in public.

It is no great secret the Imperial Household Agency wishes for the prince to marry and produce a male heir to uphold the line of succession. But bridal candidates never included one such as Hanako Tanaka, an American with no ties to the former aristocratic families of Japan and who, at age forty, is well past her prime childbearing years.

Very little is known about Ms. Tanaka other than she met the Crown Prince at Harvard. He was there on a one-year exchange to study and practice his English, and she on biology scholarship. Despite the Ivy League degree, Ms. Tanaka teaches at a community college with open enrollment.

“I don’t see the appeal,” imperial blogger Junko Inogashira says. “The Crown Prince could have anyone. Anyone.”

Still, the Crown Prince has let his preferences be known. “His Imperial Highness is temperamental in regard to Ms. Tanaka. It is his way or no way,” a member of the imperial staff tells us. “The Crown Prince is enthralled.” So enthralled, he has broken tradition and allowed Ms. Tanaka to stay on imperial grounds—in his house. The Imperial Household Agency says it’s all aboveboard. “Ms. Tanaka is residing in the palace but in separate guest quarters.”

HIH Princess Izumi has ripped a page from her father’s notebook, opting for only one imperial guard and a small unmarked imperial vehicle when going on dates with her former bodyguard turned beau, Akio Kobayashi. And inspired by her mother, she’s been donning pants in lieu of the pastel dresses usually favored by imperial women.

It’s impossible to ignore that all three—the Crown Prince, Ms. Tanaka, and HIH Princess Izumi—are turning up their noses at imperial traditions.

“The Imperial Household Agency hopes both romances fizzle out. They are marking their calendars for the day Ms. Tanaka returns to America and when Mr. Kobayashi departs for Air Self-Defense Force Officer Candidate School. They firmly believe the distance will cool the hearts of both the Crown Prince and HIH Princess Izumi.”

 

 

1

 

 

Once a year, in late August, the Asian Girl Gang conducts its annual meeting. Attendance is mandatory. The agenda is preset. It is a closed-door event; only those sworn to uphold the five covenants of the AGG are permitted to attend:

ABS—always be snacking.

Secrets make the bond healthier. (One of us writes Jonas Brothers fan fiction. One of us shaves our toes. And another clogged the school bathroom toilet so terribly with a pad that an outside plumbing company had to be called, after which the principal was prompted to hold a female-students-only assembly on the proper disposal of feminine products—it was me; that girl was me.)

Motivate and encourage one another.

My clothes are your clothes.

And, I’ll do it if you do it.

 

I stare at my three friends—Noora, Glory, and Hansani— on the computer screen. It is the first time we’ve conducted the meeting in separate locations, scattered all over the world in different time zones.

It’s eight p.m. here. I’m all the way in Tokyo, by far the farthest away from home. In Tōgū Palace, in my new room, which is all soft whites and earthy wood tones that could easily be featured in Japan’s Architectural Digest. It’s early morning in New York, where Noora is. She arrived a few days ago to move into the dorms at Columbia University. And even earlier for Glory and Hansani, four a.m. (they drew the short straw on time). Both are on the West Coast. Glory is visiting her dad in Portland before heading to the University of Oregon tomorrow. And Hansani is still in Mount Shasta but at a twenty-four-hour diner because she lives in the boonies and her father refuses to pay for the company to wire for the internet at home. She’ll leave in a couple days and be off to UC Berkeley. Among the three of them, my best friends are always the smartest people in the room. There is nothing these ladies can’t do. Hand to God, Glory can even field dress a deer. Their futures are set.

And mine?

Well, I’m trying to figure things out. My world teetered and turned upside down when I learned spring of my senior year that my father was the Crown Prince of Japan. Overnight I became a princess. It’s hard to believe and I’m still adjusting. I’ve been pretty much living in Tokyo (with one brief jaunt home, to Mount Shasta, after my relationship with my bodyguard was splashed all over the media). And my only goal has been to continue to get to know my father. That’s it.

Only …

Mr. Fuchigami, palace chamberlain and ruthless overlord, has been leaving catalogs to Japan’s elite schools all over the rooms I frequent in the palace. He’s even wrangled me into touring University of Tokyo tomorrow. Just my father’s and my grandfather, the emperor’s, undergraduate alma mater. No pressure. Only some pressure. I am standing in the past royals’ shadows. It’s far from a done deal. And I’ve made it clear I’m considering my options. So the question is: Gap year or school? The answer: I don’t know. Each option represents a different path. School in Japan leads me further down the princess conveyor belt. A gap year, further away from it—I’d be the first imperial princess in one hundred years not to go to school right away.

I pull Tamagotchi from his stinky nest at the foot of my bed and sink my nose into his wiry hair. He squirms from my embrace, planting himself farther down on the bed. Dumb dog. All I want to do is love him and be loved in return. Granted, he’s been a little out of sorts after arriving in Japan and being quarantined for fourteen days.

A server approaches Hansani and pours her a fresh cup of coffee. The mug steams, and she wraps her hands around it. “Thanks,” Hansani says to the server, smiling unsurely. “I’m sorry, I’ve been here so long. I promise I’ll tip you a lot.” The server says to take all the time she needs.

Hansani is like that. She projects an I’ll-mow-your-lawn-for-free vibe. Parents love her. She waits a beat for the server to leave, then stares directly into the camera and stage-whispers, “I barely have enough cash to cover this coffee. We need to end this now.”

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