Netsuke collection evokes Prince Takamado’s personality

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Princess Hisako holds a netsuke, a gift from Prince Takamado, beside a photo of the late prince at her official residence in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 29.

Princess Hisako, the widow of Prince Takamado, said she hopes the prince’s personality will be felt through his collection of netsuke fasteners that is being exhibited at the Tokyo National Museum in Taito Ward, Tokyo, through Dec. 25. Princess Hisako, 69, spoke to The Yomiuri Shimbun ahead of the 20th anniversary on Monday of the prince’s death at the age of 47.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: Netsuke is a fastener for items hung from obi (a kimono sash) such as kinchaku pouches and inro (decorative containers for seals). The museum is currently displaying about 500 netsuke the prince collected in the exhibition.

Princess Hisako: While keeping only a few items on hand, I newly donated the remaining 240 items to the museum this time. I am delighted because the prince had hoped that his netsuke collection would be put on permanent display at the museum. Since the collection shows the prince’s character and preferences, I hope visitors will get an idea of his personality.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A netsuke of horse, one of 12 divine generals, made by Kenji Abe

Yomiuri: What is the appeal of netsuke?

Princess Hisako: Prince Takamado supported contemporary netsuke artists as he was attracted to the exquisite carving techniques and humorous designs of the traditional craft. There are even artists who have entered the netsuke-making profession after the prince admired their work. I have been following the example of the prince and supporting netsuke artists to make it easy for them to concentrate on their creations.

Yomiuri: Which netsuke is the most memorable to you?

Princess Hisako: It is a netsuke of a horse, one of the 12 divine generals. The prince bought it for me before our marriage at a netsuke shop we went to together. He bought it since his Chinese Zodiac sign is the horse. After that, every time we had a baby, we bought a netsuke. I now have the netsuke of divine generals showing the zodiac sign of each of our five family members.

Yomiuri: Twenty years have passed since Prince Takamado’s sudden passing.

Princess Hisako: Time has flown by quickly. I do not think I have changed much, but our third daughter Ayako, who was in the sixth grade at elementary school at the time, is now a mother of two. I feel the passage of time through my children.

Yomiuri: You took over the position of honorary president of some organizations from the prince, including the Japan Football Association and the Japan Hockey Association.

Princess Hisako: What I can do for the organizations is quite different from what the prince, who played soccer and hockey himself, could do. I have always thought about and acted on what the prince would have done. Fortunately, the sports I am involved in are gaining social recognition and going in the direction the prince wanted.

Engagement in public events

Yomiuri: The World Cup will be held in Qatar.

Princess Hisako: I will watch Japan’s matches against Costa Rica and Spain in Qatar. Since there are not many chances for Japan to play against the world’s leading soccer countries like Germany and Spain, I’m looking forward to the matches.

Yomiuri: How would you like to support the Imperial family in the Reiwa era [2019-]?

Princess Hisako: Prince Takamado used to say that the Imperial family has a pyramid-style structure with the Emperor sitting at the top, and we are the ones who support the family from the bottom. Since we have a lot of contact with the public, we would like to engage in small events that the Emperor and Empress cannot attend.

Yomiuri: With a decrease in the number of royal family members, the number of honorary presidencies you hold is increasing.

Princess Hisako: It can’t be helped that the official duties divided among Imperial family members have been gradually reorganized with the decrease of the number of people involved. However, it is possible to be involved in more organizations by, for example, attending events of an entity once every few years instead of every year. I would like to continue to work for more organizations if the Imperial Household Agency approves.

This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Norihide Onozawa.

Prince Norihito of Takamado was born in 1954 and was the third son of Prince Mikasa, a younger brother of the late Emperor Showa. Prince Mikasa died in 2016 at the age of 100.

In 1984, Prince Takamado married Princess Hisako and founded the Takamado Imperial family branch. During the 2002 World Cup cohosted by Japan and South Korea, Prince Takamado became the first Imperial family member to make an official visit to South Korea after World War II. On Nov. 21 of the same year, he collapsed during squash practice and passed away at the age of 47.

The Imperial couple have three children: Princess Tsuguko, 36, Noriko Senge, 34, formerly Princess Noriko, and Ayako Moriya, 32, formerly Princess Ayako.