Japan’s Princess Mako defies criticism to marry commoner

Princess Mako of Japan defies criticism by marrying a commoner.

Princess Mako, the niece of Japan’s emperor, has reportedly been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after a four-year battle to marry her university sweetheart that has obsessed the nation and drawn criticism over his family’s financial affairs.

Word of her condition, reminiscent of the stress-related illness suffered by both her aunt, Japan’s empress, and grandmother, the former empress, emerged on Friday when it was announced that her marriage would take place later this month.

Japan’s imperial family is small by design following its postwar reorganisation: Mako is one of three unmarried adult princesses, making her choice of partner a matter of intensely scrutinised national interest.

The engagement between the princess and Kei Komuro, a 30-year-old native of Yokohama who works at a law firm in New York, was first made public in 2017. Their relationship became instant fodder for Japan’s tabloid newspapers and gossip magazines, echoing the brouhaha in the UK over Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s decision to leave the royal family.

The media pounced on allegations that Komuro’s mother, who raised her son alone, was dealing with financial difficulties relating to his former fiancée, sparking criticism that he was not a suitable royal spouse.

Interest in the couple reached fever pitch this week when Komuro arrived from the US sporting a ponytail, a look deemed by Japan’s tabloid commentariat as perilously unconventional for the suitor of a princess.

In keeping with Japanese rules Mako’s marriage, which will reportedly take place on October 26, will formally separate her from the royal fold, stripping her of imperial family status and leaving her to live as a commoner. The couple plan to relocate to New York, a decision that has added to the indignation from certain quarters of the Japanese media.

In a highly unusual move, the imperial household agency announced on Friday that Mako intended to turn down a $1.4m dowry when she marries Komura, according to state broadcaster NHK. The agency declined to comment.

By tradition, Japanese princesses are given a one-off payment when they start their life as a commoner in order to help maintain a certain standard of living. But Mako, reportedly in light of public criticism, has decided not to take the money when she starts her new life with Komuro in New York.

The marriage is expected to be a low-key event with traditional ceremonies to mark the engagement also not being carried out. When Mako’s aunt, Princess Nori, married her commoner — a Tokyo Metropolitan government bureaucrat — in 2005, the wedding reception was held at a central Tokyo hotel.

Japanese media said Mako had been suffering from PTSD symptoms such as anxiety, lack of concentration and lethargy since 2018. Officials said the criticism the couple had faced since their engagement made her “frightened that her wish to lead a peaceful and happy life after marriage was becoming impossible”. 

Mako is the third female member of the royal family to suffer stress-induced ill health after Empress Masako suffered from chronic depression and former Empress Michiko overcame temporary loss of speech.

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