Kiko Kawashima was born on 11 September 1966 in Shizuoka Saiseikai General Hospital in Suga-ku, Shizuoka, Japan, to Tatsuhiko Kawashima and Kazuyo Sugimoto. The family relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, the following year for her father to attend the famous Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania. The family would later become a family of four when Kiko’s younger brother was born.
Kiko was educated in the United States until the age of six before returning to Japan for a period. Upon moving back to Japan in 1972, the future royal attended several elementary schools including Nakada Elementary School and Shinjuku Ward Waseda Elementary School. She studied in Austria while her father worked as the chief researcher at The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis for two years in the late 1970s. As a result of living abroad, Kiko speaks English and German in addition to her native Japanese.
Kiko’s family returned to Japan in 1979 where she attended Gakushuin Girls’ Junior and Senior High School; while there, she was active in the welfare committee where she raised money for those with disabilities and leprosy. She entered university in 1985 to study psychology at Gakushuin University where she graduated in 1989 with her bachelor’s degree. She went on to receive a master’s degree in the subject in 1995 from the university before obtaining a PhD in psychology from Ochanomizu University in 2013.
It was while studying at university that she met her prince in the school’s library. In June 1986, Prince Fumihito proposed, but their engagement was not announced for three years. Officials in the Imperial Household disapproved of the match as Kiko did not come from a wealthy family, and Fumihito’s grandmother, Empress Dowager Nagako was against the union to who people called the “apartment princess.”
The Imperial Household Council announced Fumihito was engaged to a commoner on 12 September 1989. Their official engagement ceremony wasn’t held until the one year mourning period had concluded for Emperor Hirohito who died on 7 January 1989. The “Nosai no Gi” (engagement ceremony) was held on 12 January 1990, and their wedding followed on 29 June 1990 at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The public celebrated the royal wedding and the “Cinderella story” of Kiko.
Fumihito and Kiko’s first child, Princess Mako was born on 23 October 1991, and their second daughter, Princess Kako followed on 29 December 1994.
Princess Kiko continued her studies after getting married and having children. She also learned Japanese sign language and focuses on helping those in the deaf community in her charity work. Her daughters have followed in her footsteps in this regard.
She holds several patronages and honorary positions including being a reserve member of the Imperial Household Council, patron of the Japan Anti-Tuberculosis Association, and Honorary Vice-President of the Japanese Red Cross Society, among others.
Twelve years after having Princess Kako, Fumihito and Kiko had their third child – Japan’s longed-for son and heir. Prince Hisahito was born on 6 September 2006 when Kiko was almost 40. Hisahito is the only grandson of Emperor Emeritus Akihito, and as women are not allowed to succeed to the Japanese throne, his birth was met with celebration as Japan’s line of succession was uncertain. It delayed talks with the Japanese government on a change in the laws to allow women to ascend the throne; these talks have begun to circulate again now that Fumihito’s brother, Naruhito is on the throne.
On 30 April 2019, Emperor Akihito abdicated the throne, and the following day, Naruhito became Emperor of Japan. This elevated Fumihito to Crown Prince, making Kiko the Crown Princess. The official ceremony “Rikkōshi-Senmei-no-gi” to declare Fumihito as heir to the throne took place in November 2020.
The Crown Prince and Crown Princess travel across the globe on behalf of the Imperial Family and have attended important events like state funerals of their European counterparts and toured countries to strengthen diplomatic relations between those nations and Japan.
If Kiko’s husband ascends the throne as expected, she will one day be the Empress of Japan and the mother to the future Emperor of Japan – forever holding a central and important role in the Imperial Family and Japanese history.