NewsA yes for love

A yes for love

Princess Mako marries a commoner and leaves Japan’s conservative imperial family. Its strict traditions are increasingly becoming a problem – the farm is getting smaller and smaller.

In the eyes of most people, Kei Komuro would look like a good match. The 30-year-old is outwardly attractive, has completed a law degree, speaks English and works as a lawyer in the USA. But that shouldn’t be enough for his girlfriend. In 2018 it came out that Komuro’s mother should not have repaid debts to her ex-husband. Japan’s imperial court office announced without further ado that Komuro’s planned wedding would be postponed indefinitely.

After all, the woman Komuro was after was none other than Princess Mako, the niece of Emperor Naruhito and daughter of his brother, Crown Prince Fumihito of Akishino. And because such worldly flaws as money problems are considered unworthy of the imperial family, the couple’s marriage plans seem to have in fact failed. Komuro and Mako haven’t seen each other for three years. At the end of September, however, the young lawyer appeared in Tokyo, and soon afterwards it was clear: Mako will now follow him to the USA, with their wedding on October 26th, leaving the imperial court in the center of Japan’s capital behind.

The case is a sensation among the Japanese public. “Princess Mako is leaving the tradition and surviving controversies in order to marry her university love,” was the headline of the radio station “NHK” on its website at the beginning of October. “It is expected that Komuro will explain his mother’s financial problems of 36,000 US dollars to Crown Prince Fumihito and Crown Princess Kiko,” said the Kyodo news agency.

Even the liberal daily “Asahi Shimbun” seemed concerned: “His exam results are not expected until mid-December, but he has already landed a job.” Komuro’s haircut has also been discussed for weeks. When the couple got engaged in 2017, he wore a traditional short hairstyle, as expected by most schools in the country that consider themselves particularly modest. When he arrived at the airport late last month, however, Komuro had a ponytail. In addition, the top button of his shirt was open.

Usually in Japan there is much less discussion about the appearance and private life of the imperial family than in the constitutional monarchies of the western world, such as Great Britain crisp stories are supplied. In Japan, on the other hand, the imperial family is largely kept silent. It gets tricky when the supposed impeccability of this nobility is at stake.

Kei Komuro and Princess Mako have been confronted with the doubts of the conservatives and the interest of the onlookers in the country for years. The two have known each other since 2012 when they studied together at the International Christian University of Tokyo. Mako said of her boyfriend a few years ago: “Mr. Komuro is a person who gives me warm encouragement.” And: “I think the first thing that attracted me to him was his bright smile, like the sun.”

Mako now has to pay a high price for the light in her life. The rules of the court stipulate that women who marry a commoner leave the imperial family. In the midst of the controversy, Mako is also said to forego the dowry of 150 million yen (1.13 million euros) that female departures from the court usually receive. With this kind of modesty, Mako and Kei Komuro seem like a Japanese counterpart to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in Great Britain these days, who also renounced their royal titles in order to lead a more casual life in the United States.

The family is shrinking

Mako may also want to divert attention from another discussion that comes up once more with her departure from the imperial family: The court is gradually running out of people. Not least because of the strict marriage rules for women, according to which marriage to a bourgeois man de facto means being thrown out, the number of family members has been shrinking for years. In 2019, for example, Princess Ayako married a commoner. The number of members who perform various ceremonial and representative tasks in the state is already under 20. At present, after Emperor Akihito’s younger brother Fumihito of Akishino, there is only his son in the line of succession, the 15-year-old Hisahito. The imperial office is closed to women.

The last act of Princess Mako as a member of the imperial family will now be to present themselves to Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako as well as to the abdicated imperial couple Akihito and Michiko in order to formally say goodbye. After the wedding, Mako and her groom plan to hold a press conference at a hotel in Tokyo. The imperial court has no space for the flashlight thunderstorm event. Because after the wedding, Mako is no longer imperial. That’s the tradition.

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