Princess Mako’s Royal Wedding in Japan Goes Off With Little Fanfare


TOKYO — The last time the sister of a future emperor of Japan got married, thousands of well-wishers lined the streets as the bride, Princess Sayako, left the palace to attend the ceremony and reception at one of Tokyo’s premier hotels.

But when Princess Mako, 30, a niece of the current emperor and an older sister of the likely future sovereign, married on Tuesday, there was just a simple trip to a registry office in Tokyo, handled by royal representatives.

Still, even without a televised wedding or a balcony kiss, there was a poignant expression of romantic devotion. In a formal news conference on Tuesday afternoon, the groom, Kei Komuro, looked into the camera and declared: “I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love.”

The path to that tender moment had been torturous. To be with Mr. Komuro, a commoner, Princess Mako had to renounce her royal heritage.

Yet after waiting three years for Mr. Komuro to finish law school and start a job at a New York law firm, the patient couple, who were college sweethearts at the International Christian University in Tokyo, registered their marriage on Tuesday morning.

At the news conference, held at a hotel less than a mile from the Imperial Palace, the couple sat side by side at a long table and faced a roomful of reporters and a phalanx of cameras. The bride wore a pale blue sheath dress and jacket with a single strand of pearls, while Mr. Komuro wore a dark navy-blue striped suit.

In prepared remarks, the princess said: “I acknowledge that there are various opinions about our marriage. I feel very sorry for the people to whom we gave trouble. I’m grateful for the people who have been quietly concerned about us, or those who continued supporting us without being confused by baseless information.”

To avoid having to answer unpleasant questions or address falsehoods, the couple asked to reply in writing to five questions from reporters submitted in advance. To avoid accusations that they were wasting taxpayers’ money, they paid to rent the room for the news briefing.

Underlying many of the virulent opinions about Princess Mako’s choice of partner is a strain of existential panic about the royal family, which stands as a symbol of traditional Japan. The world’s oldest monarchy faces a looming succession crisis, and the princess’s marriage highlights a problem that the government has declined to address.

Under the Imperial Household Law, which governs the succession of Japan’s emperors, women are not allowed to reign on the throne. The law also stipulates that Princess Mako must relinquish her royal title because she is marrying a commoner, and she will become a commoner herself. Any children she has will not be in line to the throne.

A vast majority of the Japanese public thinks the law should be amended so that women — including Princess Aiko, the 19-year-old daughter of the current emperor, Naruhito — can sit on the throne. A recent survey by Kyodo News showed that about 80 percent also want children born of royal women like Princess Mako to be in the line of succession.

So far the conservative wing of the governing Liberal Democratic Party has staunchly opposed any changes that would allow women to reign or children of royal women to join the line of succession.

But the family is running out of male heirs, with just three left who can succeed the current monarch: Emperor Naruhito’s 85-year-old uncle; the emperor’s 55-year-old brother, Akishino, Princess Mako’s father; and the emperor’s 15-year-old nephew, the younger brother of Princess Mako and the only family member of his generation eligible to serve as emperor. (By contrast, the British royal family has more than 20 people in line to the throne, many of them female and none of them — yet — octogenarians.)

The possibility that the political establishment may have to bow to popular opinion or demographic reality means the public feels entitled to weigh in on Princess Mako’s choice of husband, in case she is reinstated into the imperial family.

“As we don’t know yet whether female members of the family might be allowed to head a line of succession or succeed to the throne, people care so much about her marriage,” said Hideya Kawanishi, associate professor of modern history and an expert on Japan’s imperial system at Nagoya University.

The public has found Mr. Komuro unsuitable mainly because of suspicions about his family. His mother was widowed when his father died and then was entangled in a relationship with a man who later accused her of not paying back the $36,000 debt. Mr. Komuro and his mother say they believed the money was a gift, but after the public uproar, Prince Akishino asked Mr. Komuro to explain the situation. He delivered a 28-page document earlier this year detailing the financial arrangement and how it would be resolved.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Mr. Komuro addressed the controversy directly, explaining that his mother suffered from mental illness and that he had offered a settlement to her ex-boyfriend.

Now that they are married, the princess, who will be known as Mako Komuro, may move to New York to join her husband. She has turned down a royal dowry worth about $1.4 million, so the couple will have to live off Mr. Komuro’s salary at first.

The princess holds a master’s degree in art museum and gallery studies from the University of Leicester in Britain and has worked at a museum in Tokyo for more than five years, so she may be able to find a job in New York’s art world.

Perhaps it is the couple’s decision to carve out their own life outside Japan that has invited the most public vehemence. Even if she must leave the family, the princess is expected to conform to traditional notions of duty.

“The imperial family used to be looked at like gods, beautiful and unreachable, but that is no longer the case,” Hanako Onodera, 59, said while walking with two friends in the imperial palace gardens last week.

“Maybe this generation now dares to speak out more and demand what they want more than the generation before,” she added. “They don’t feel as much pressure to put the country’s needs before their own.”

In response to a question from a reporter on Tuesday afternoon, the new Mrs. Komuro said that she had no plans to give media interviews and that she hoped “just to lead a peaceful life in my new environment.”

Hikari Hida contributed reporting.



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