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Japan royal wedding: subdued ritual looms as Princess Mako marries amid controversy

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP

It is perhaps fitting that the weather forecast is for cloud and drizzle in Tokyo on Tuesday, when Princess Mako – the eldest niece of Japan’s emperor – will marry her college sweetheart in a subdued ritual marred by years of criticism of their relationship.

Despite the imperial backdrop – and a public craving for distraction after 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic – their nuptials will involve lots of paperwork and rather less festivity.

As a spectacle, the marriage of Princess Mako and her non-royal boyfriend, Kei Komuro, was never going to match those of her male relatives. Japan’s male-only succession laws mean that as a female member of Japan’s imperial family, Mako, who turned 30 on Saturday, will never ascend the Chrysanthemum throne. As is customary, she will leave the imperial palace in Tokyo to start life as a commoner in the couple’s new home in New York.

Related: Heir of desperation as Japan wrestles with looming royal succession crisis

But the whiff of a financial scandal in Komuro’s family that has plagued them since they went public with their relationship four years ago means their union will attract public and media attention for all the wrong reasons.

Little about the wedding plans suggest it involves a princess from an ancient royal lineage, a family whose senior members are revered by the public and media in a way that would be utterly alien to the UK tabloids.

Japan&#x002019;s Princess Mako and her fiance Kei Komuro at a press conference at Akasaka East Residence in Tokyo.
Japan’s Princess Mako and her fiance Kei Komuro have note seen each other in three years after their wedding plans were put on hold by a financial scandal in Komuro’s family. Photograph: Shizuo Kambayashi/AP

Amid continuing public unease over the apparently unresolved money dispute, Mako has skipped several traditional ceremonies, though she did meet Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako on Friday.

Mako, whom agency officials say is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to excessive media and public criticism, also declined a payment of $1m (£742,000) payment in taxpayers’ money that is traditionally given to women who relinquish their royal status.

Confirmation of the marriage will come when the couple hold a simple press conference at a hotel in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Her fiance Komuro returned to Japan last month to be confronted by criticism of his appearance – he was sporting a “disrespectful” ponytail on arrival – before meeting Mako for the first time in three years and visiting her parents, a meeting that media noted started late because he had got stuck in traffic.

‘Morally, the Japanese people want them to be impeccable’

Japan celebrated when, in September 2017, Mako and Komuro – contemporaries at the International Christian University in Tokyo – said they planned to get engaged later in the year and marry in November 2018.

But in February 2018, the imperial household agency, which oversees the family’s affairs, said the wedding had been put off for two years after magazine reports that Komuro’s mother was embroiled in a financial dispute linked to ¥4m (£25,400) she had received from a former fiancé, some of which was used to pay for her son’s education.

Her financial affairs have generated exclusively negative headlines ever since, leaving Komuro struggling to defend his family’s reputation, and his bride-to-be battling mental health issues.

Kei Komuro, the boyfriend of Japan&#x002019;s Princess Mako, with his hair in a ponytail.
Kei Komuro attracted negative headlines last month when he arrived back in Japan sporting a ponytail. Photograph: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

Akinori Takamori, a lecturer at Kokugakuin University in Tokyo, said: “The royal family should exist without troubles connected to money, the economy, or politics.

“Morally, the Japanese people want them to be impeccable. There isn’t a place for Komuro in Japan, and so Mako, despite affection for her family, can’t stay. It’s not that they’ve fallen out with her family.”

Kazuko Ito, secretary general of the Japan-based group Human Rights Now, wrote in an online commentary for President magazine that marrying the person of your choosing “is an important human right”.

She said: “Marriage and romance are critically important choices that are directly linked to happiness. Given that society is attempting to deny [Mako and Komuro] that happiness, it is almost like the hands of the clock have been reset to the feudal era.”

Related: Why has wedding of Japan's Princess Mako still not gone ahead?

Even Mako’s family appear to harbour doubts about the wedding plans, even though their public utterances are often open to interpretation.

Her mother, Crown Princess Kiko, admitted that she and her daughter had “disagreed on certain matters”, while her father, Crown Prince Akishino, has said only that he will give the union his blessing, “if that is what they truly want”. In comments released to mark her 87th birthday, Mako’s grandmother, Empress Emeritus Michiko, expressed her “sadness” over the impending move to New York, where Komuro works for a law firm.

For Mako, life on the other side of the Pacific will be a chance to reset, and draw comfort from a time before the media attempted to turned two young people into public enemies.

Her dream, she told reporters when her engagement to Komuro was announced in 2017, was simple: “To make a warm and comfortable family full of smiles.”

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