The royal wedding in Japan goes off with a bang

TOKYO – The last time the sister of a future emperor of Japan got married, thousands of supporters marched through the streets as the bride, Princess Sayako, left the palace to attend the ceremony and reception in one of the biggest hotels in Tokyo.

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

The road to this moment has been tortuous. Shortly after the princess and her husband Kei Komuro announced their engagement four years ago, the public began to question her choice. The tabloids revealed her mother received 4 million yen, or about $ 36,000, from an ex-boyfriend whom she failed to reimburse, leading critics to suggest Mr. Komuro was trying to marry in the imperial family for money or fame.

Princess Mako’s father refused to approve the wedding, citing chilled public opinion. The paparazzi pursued Mr Komuro, 30, after he left for New York to attend Fordham Law School and followed his shaggy hair and food truck habits. Savage attacks on social media have left the princess suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

When Mr. Komuro returned to Japan earlier this month to self-quarantine before the wedding, the exam became even more frantic, bordering on absurdity. The media and the public were shocked, just shocked, that he arrived from New York with a ponytail. A tabloid weekly reported that a royal court official had mocked Mr Komuro’s choice to wear a pinstripe suit – as opposed to a solid black or navy blue – to meet his future in-laws. In some surveys, up to 80 percent of respondents said they oppose marriage.

Yet after waiting three years for Mr. Komuro to finish his law school and start a job at a New York law firm, the patient couple, who were in love with Tokyo International Christian University, recorded their wedding Tuesday morning. They were planning to hold a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

To avoid having to answer obnoxious questions or address lies, the couple had to give written answers to five questions from journalists submitted in advance. To avoid accusations of wasting taxpayer money, they paid to rent a room for the press briefing.

At the root of many virulent opinions about Princess Mako’s mate choice is a tension of existential panic about the royal family, which is a symbol of traditional Japan. The world’s oldest monarchy faces a looming succession crisis, and the princess’s wedding highlights an issue the government has refused to address.

Under the Imperial Household Law, which governs the succession of Emperors of Japan, women are not allowed to rule the throne. The law also states that Princess Mako must relinquish her royal title because she marries a commoner and will become a commoner herself. The children she has will not be in line with the throne.

The vast majority of the Japanese public believe the law should be changed so that women – including Princess Aiko, the 19-year-old daughter of current Emperor Naruhito – can sit on the throne. A recent Kyodo News poll showed that around 80% also want children born to royal women like Princess Mako to be in the line of succession.

So far, the conservative wing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has strongly opposed any change that would allow women to rule or the children of royal women to join the line of succession.

But the family is short of male heirs, there are only three people left to succeed the current monarch: the 85-year-old uncle of Emperor Naruhito; the Emperor’s 55-year-old brother Akishino, Princess Mako’s father; and the Emperor’s 15-year-old nephew, Princess Mako’s younger brother and the only family member of his generation eligible to serve as Emperor. (In contrast, the British royal family has more than 20 people lined up on the throne, many of them women and none – yet – in their 80s.)

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

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

The public found Mr. Komuro unfit mainly because of suspicion about his family. Her mother was widowed when her father died and was subsequently embroiled in a relationship with a man who later accused her of failing to repay the $ 36,000 debt. Mr Komuro and his mother say they thought the money was a gift, but after the public outcry 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.

The whole setback left a lingering mistrust of his family in the public mind. In Japan, “marriage is always a marriage between families,” said Michiko Ueda, associate professor of political science at Waseda University in Tokyo. “It’s not like you’re married to a guy. You are married to a whole family.

The rumors have metastasized and now question Mr. Komuro’s character. Critics on social media have called him a gold digger or a con artist. The media suggested that a biography, posted on the website of Lowenstein Sandler, the law firm where he works in New York, listed the fabricated awards. A spokesperson for Fordham Law School confirmed that Mr Komuro, who graduated with a law degree in 2021 and an LLM in 2019, actually earned the awards he listed.

Royal watchers say Mr Komuro does not live up to the traditional expectations of Japanese men and his treatment reflects distrust of the outside world.

“This is partly due to the fact that Mr. Komuro was not very submissive to Japanese values ​​because he went to international school, speaks fluent English and left a Japanese bank,” said Kumiko Nemoto, professor of sociology at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies.

“In Japanese society, people like to see people sacrifice a part of themselves for the society, the group and the family,” Ms. Nemoto added. Mr. Komuro, she said, is more “individualistic, trying to prove himself by doing something professionally. I don’t think the Japanese like it.

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

The Princess holds an MA in Art Museum and Gallery Studies from the University of Leicester in Britain and has worked in a museum in Tokyo for more than five years, so perhaps she could find a employment in the art world in New York.

Perhaps it was the couple’s decision to carve out a life outside of Japan that sparked the most vehemence from the public. Even though she has to leave the family, the princess is expected to abide by traditional notions of duty.

“The Imperial Family was once considered gods, beautiful and inaccessible, but that’s no longer the case,” said Hanako Onodera, 59, as he strolled with two friends in the gardens of the Imperial Palace last week.

“Perhaps this generation now dares to express itself more and demand what it wants more than the previous generation,” she added. “They don’t feel as much pressure to put the country’s needs ahead of their own. “

Hikari Hida contributed reporting.

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