Wherever Japan’s ruling family goes, you will find Fumiko Shirataki -- in summer heat and winter cold, to the ocean and to the mountains.

For the past 26 years, Shirataki has followed and taken pictures of Emperor Akihito, Empress Michiko and especially Crown Princess Masako.

Shirataki loves following the royal family. This custom is called “okkake” in Japan. She began in 1993, when she followed then-Masako Owada, before her marriage to Crown Prince Naruhito.

Shirataki, now age 78, remembers that, in the beginning, she had trouble taking good pictures.

“I wasn’t used to carrying such a heavy camera, so I’d shoot the tires, or the back seat, or the driver,” she said at her home in Kawasaki, near Tokyo. On the wall hangs a photo of Masako and an Imperial Family calendar.

But now she has gotten better at photography, and her house is filled with a huge number of photos.

She cannot count them. “After all, it’s been 26 years,” she said.

Shirataki will not say how she and others learn about where royal family members will be. But once she has the details, she loads her things, takes a folding chair and a rice ball to eat, and leaves the house.

“They know our faces by now, so when we raise the cameras I guess they think ‘here they are’ and they face towards us and wave,” said Shirataki.

Most Japanese who chase after the royals are female. They say their main interest is the royal women and their clothes. Shirataki has a part-time job at a car dealership and does have free time to take photos.

Up until recently, her husband was still working, but he died two years ago. Now she cannot spend as much time on photography. “I’d spend five or six days a week at this, but now I have to work,” she said.

Shirataki does not want to talk about how much she spends on following the royals and taking pictures. But she will say that she spends over $400 every year just on photos.

Shirataki says Masako is her favorite royal and has even appeared in her dreams. But Shirataki worries about Masako’s health. The crown princess has had health problems in recent years.

Shirataki may already have reached the height of her success as a royal chaser. This year, she shook hands with the Empress.

On April 30, the Japanese emperor will turn over his official duties to his son, Naruhito. There will be a new Empress Masako.


Exercise 1


Read the following vocabulary with your teacher.

royal (adj.) - of or relating to a king or queen

  • He comes from a royal family.

tire (n.) - the rubber covering of a wheel

  • He sells car tires.

load (v.) - to put an amount of something in or on (something)

  • We loaded the car and drove off.

appear (v.) - to become visible : to begin to be seen

  • The sun began to appear from behind the clouds.


Exercise 2


Answer these questions about the article.

1. How long has Shirataki been following the Japanese royal famiy.

2. How old is Shirataki now?

3. How much does Shirataki spend on photos?

4. Who is Shirataki's favorite member of the royal family?


Exercise 3

Make a sentence

Make sentences using these words.

royal, tire, load, appear


Exercise 4


Have a discussion on following questions.

1. What do you think of Shirataki's hobby?

2. In your opinion, why are many people interested in the lives of royal families?

3. Do you like taking pictures?

4. If you could meet any famous person, who would you like to meet?


This lesson is based on a news article originally published by VOA.