Eat your heart out, Princess Margaret: Princess Mako of Japan gives up her standing as a member of the Imperial Family for love.
Today’s royal wedding in Japan vastly differed from the happy sentiments in Greece. Princess Mako of Akishino, the eldest daughter of Crown Prince Fumihito and Princess Kiko, the niece of Emperor Naruhito, and most importantly, the older sister of Prince Hisahito (more on him later) married her boyfriend, Kei Komuro.
But what should have been a joyous celebration was instead marred with negative reactions from the public.
According to The Daily Beast, AERA magazine did a poll on the public sentiments about the occasion. 93% of respondents felt that the event was nothing to celebrate. Rabid monarchists have held small street protests decrying the situation, with signs like “Do Not Pollute the Imperial Family With This Cursed Marriage.”
In part, this is due to a scandal within the groom’s family: Princess Mako met Komuro in 2012, during their student years at the International Christian University in Tokyo. The engagement had been approved and the wedding was due to happen in November 2018, until a local Japanese paper published a major scoop: Komuro’s mother had failed to pay a debt to her former fiancée, totaling around $36,000.
This opened the floodgates: soon, the Japanese media started sniffing out every facet of information about the Komuro family. True or not, everything was spun into a scandal, including the rumor that Komuro was Korean-Japanese. Known as the Zainichi, this group of mostly fourth-generation of ethnic Koreans tends to be looked down on.
The Imperial Household Agency (a government arm in Japan in charge of state issues regarding the Imperial family) postponed the wedding. Komuro left to study at the Fordham University School of Law in New York, but the couple stayed engaged.
At a press conference, Princess Mako’s father, Crown Prince Fumihito said the ceremonies could not go on until the disputes and the rumors were resolved, as this meant citizens could not celebrate the event. He also mentioned he hadn’t spoken much with his daughter. Princess Mako responded by asserting her will to marry Komuro. She said she would wait for him to graduate so they could marry.
Here is how the Imperial Family functions in Japan: only men can inherit the throne. Before the birth of Prince Hisahito in September 2006, the last male born in the family’s direct line was his father, Crown Prince Fumihito in 1965. Before 2006, all of then-Emperor Akihito’s grandchildren were girls: sisters Princess Mako and Princess Kako, and current Emperor Naruhito’s daughter, Princess Aiko.
Thus before Prince Hisahito was born, Japan was nearly plunged into a succession crisis: women cannot inherit the throne, and there were no signs that any of the Princesses who married into the family were going to give birth any time soon.
Emperor Akihito’s eldest son, then-Prince Naruhito’s wife Masako (now the Emperess) gave birth to Princess Aiko at 38 and then suffered emotional disorders over the prospect of having to provide an heir. Princess Kiko (Crown Prince Fumihito’s wife) was 29 when she gave birth to Princess Kako. It didn’t seem possible for another birth in the family.
This gave rise to speculation that The Imperial Household Law of 1947, which states that only sons can inherit, should change to allow females to inherit. Japan is the last remaining royal family that insists on only sons being heirs to the throne. Government panels were convened to discuss the amendment to the law, and in January 2006, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi addressed the matter in his annual keynote speech.
And then…surprise! The plans were subsequently shelved when Crown Prince Fumihito and Princess Kiko announced they were expecting their third child. On September 6, 2006, the longed-for son, Prince Hisahito was born. Princess Aiko lost her place in the line of inheritance.
Why is all of this relevant? It stands to reason that with Prince Hisahito around, his older sisters and cousin should now be allowed to marry peacefully, whoever they want. However, as with all women in any lot in life (Princess or not) life is never easy.
Thanks to the 1947 Constitution of Japan, the aristocracy was abolished (due to a little-known event called World War II), which means that while descendants of the old aristocratic families (known as the Kazoku) continue to occupy prominent roles in society, they are effectively commoners.
So what’s left for the Japanese Princesses? They can marry a distant cousin (ew), or any one of these proto-approved “commoners.” Thanks to the aforementioned Imperial Household Law, this comes with caveats: they lose their place as members of the Imperial Family, and all of its perks and benefits (like security, which is why a couple of Princesses have been kidnapped).
They do get a $1.3 million sweetener, meant to ensure that even if they are now commoners, they still have a financial fallback. This is why a few choose to say unmarried.
In the British Royal Family (and on The Crown), Princess Margaret couldn’t give up the life she was accustomed to in exchange for marrying Peter Townsend. Not so for Princess Mako. She is giving up everything by marrying an actual commoner, including the $1.3 million she is entitled to. There will be no traditional religious rites and a large wedding. She will be known henceforth as Mako Komuro.
On October 22, Princess Mako said goodbye to her uncle and aunt, Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako. Today she got married. She and Komura will move to New York, where she will use her curatorial degree to use, perhaps as an art-world girl. Komura, meanwhile, has given up a lot as well: he cannot work in his home country, or see his mother. They will essentially be Japanese ex-pats: a lawyer and a curator.
The Japanese Imperial Family, meanwhile, is getting smaller. There are now only 17 members of the family left. Time will tell what the remaining Princesses Kako and Aiko will do. Unless reforms happen, Prince Hisahito, only a 15-year-old, carries the burden of an entire dynasty on his shoulders. Good luck, kid.