Small Town Savors Princess Connection

Article excerpt

THE princess lived here.

Belmont, Mass., a town of 26,000 just west of Boston, never expected to be the focus of the Japanese media. But when the announcement was made that Masako Owada would wed Crown Prince Naruhito on June 9, Japanese press descended on this small town where the future crown princess and her family lived from 1979 to 1981.

Film rolled and cameras clicked. One Japanese magazine shot a 50-page fashion special all in Belmont.

Paul Graham, manager of Champions Sporting Goods, says three Nippon television crews have been in his store. They interviewed him, his daughter, his wife, and the store owner. "One of my sons was at the high school at the same time she was," Mr. Graham says. "I think it's good for the town; it's going to be good for the merchants," he says, referring to the publicity that has brought a steady trickle of Japanese tourists to town. The store sells T-shirts that read "Belmont, Massachusetts, Home of Princess Masako" and have her picture on them.

Although many US press accounts have made it seem as if Japanese tourists have poured into Belmont by busloads, the only real onslaught has been by the Japanese press. According to Peter Dale of DL Transnational Associates, Inc., the travel tours his company has arranged were primarily for press groups.

The word from Shoko Hirao, Japanese marketing specialist at Massachusetts Port Authority, is wait and see. There was a rumor that the couple's honeymoon might include a stop in the Cambridge/Belmont area. If that proves true, "honeymoon" packages may be great sellers to Japanese tourists, she says.

"Six months ago, Belmont wasn't on the map as far as being a hot attraction," says Ashley McCown with the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. Because of the interest generated by the Japanese press, people have latched onto Belmont, she says. …