Japan's 'bearded Prince' remembered for social welfare work

Princess Akiko, the eldest daughter of Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, repeatedly wiped away tears at the funeral ceremony for her father Thursday morning, while her younger sister, Princess Yoko, looked sorrowful.

A hearse carrying the prince's coffin slowly proceeded through Toshimagaoka Imperial Graveyard in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, while mournful court music was played in the background.

The Renso no Gi funeral service was held according to Imperial court tradition in a mood of sadness and solemnity. Princess Akiko acted as chief mourner.

Prince Tomohito, nicknamed the "Bearded Prince," was greatly liked for his friendliness and broad-mindedness. He died on June 6 at the age of 66.

The hearse carrying the coffin arrived at the cemetery at 9:35 a.m. While six musicians from the Imperial Household Agency's Music Department wearing dark gray clothes played court funeral music, the car slowly moved among about 660 attendees.

Shigeru Sumitani, president of Social Welfare Organization Saiseikai Imperial Gift Foundation Inc., and five others who had close relations with Prince Tomohito walked alongside the hearse. Princess Akiko, 30, and Princess Yoko, 28, followed them.

Kazutane Soma, brother-in-law of Prince Tomohito's wife Princess Nobuko, acted as master of ceremonies. Shortly after 10 a.m. he gave a eulogy in ancient Japanese.

"[Prince Tomohito] worked actively on social welfare issues such as skiing for the disabled. He also served as president of several organizations and promoted their activities...His condition took a sudden turn for the worse at the beginning of this month," he said.

Princesses Akiko and Yoko listened with lowered eyes.

Representatives of the Emperor and Empress, who did not attend the funeral according to custom, presented a sprig of a sacred tree dedicated to Shinto gods at the altar.

Princess Akiko then approached the coffin, bowed her head and offered another sprig of the sacred tree. Princess Yoko walked to the altar with steady steps and bowed her head.

Other Imperial family mourners followed the princesses, including Prince Tomohito's parents, Prince Mikasa, 96, who is in a wheelchair, and Princess Yuriko, 89.

Princess Akiko watched as the coffin containing the body of Prince Tomohito was put on the hearse after 9 a.m. at his residence in Moto-Akasaka district, Tokyo. She pressed her eyes to hold back tears.

The motorcade left for the cemetery as the Imperial Guards Music Band played Chopin's funeral march. Officials of the Imperial Household Agency watched the car leave the residence, with some officials sobbing.

The motorcade passed in front of the Otemon main gate of the Imperial Palace at 9:20 a.m.

About 200 members of the agency and the Imperial Guards in mourning clothes lined the street for over 100 meters, bowing deeply as the hearse passed.

About 400 citizens also lined the street to pay their final respects to Prince Tomohito.

"I saw Prince Tomohito when he attended a welfare event. I was impressed by his friendly conversations with disabled people. I prayed his soul would rest in peace," said Sonoe Kei, a 55-year-old housewife from Kobe who was in Tokyo to volunteer to clean the Imperial Palace grounds.

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