With only a small ceremony to mark the momentous occasion, Princess Mako of Japan gave up her royal status to marry a commoner, Kei Komuro, this week. During the four years of their engagement, the couple endured intense tabloid scrutiny, with Mako even being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the excessive online trolling.
Critics felt that Komuro was not good enough for the princess, especially after details about a financial scandal involving his mother were unearthed. In a press conference after the wedding, however, Mako said, “For me, Kei is irreplaceable — marriage was a necessary choice for us.”
The media frenzy that has surrounded the relationship since the engagement in 2017 has led the couple to be dubbed “Japan’s Harry and Meghan”. And while there are certain commonalities in the stories of both relationships, the newly-wed Komuros faced challenges of different order altogether, not least of which was the reverence in which members of the over-2,600-year-old monarchy are held even today.
In some ways, Japan’s imperial family has kept up with the times — for example, the protocol which dictated that royal women had to walk a few steps behind the male members of the household is now disregarded. But in many, more significant, ways, the family remains bound by the strict rules of the Imperial Household Law, one of which is that princesses (but not princes) who marry commoners will lose their royal status.
Mako is not the first member of the imperial family to marry a non-blue blood. Her aunt, Sayako, married a town planner named Yoshiki Kuroda in 2005. But the first commoner to marry a Japanese royal was the present Empress Emerita Michiko, who, after marrying Emperor Emeritus Aikihito in 1959, became a symbol of Japan’s modernisation, with the public affectionately calling her “Mitchy”. Having had to leave the royal household, Mako may not get that opportunity for acceptance of her choice, but she might just find more peace.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 28, 2021 under the title ‘Not a fairytale’.