Japan’s former princess leaves for US with commoner husband

TOKYO — A Japanese princess who gave up her royal status to marry her commoner college sweetheart left for New York on Sunday, as the couple pursued happiness as newlyweds and left behind a nation that has criticized their romance.

The departure of Mako Komuro, the former Princess Mako, and Kei Komuro, both 30, was carried live by major Japanese broadcasters, showing them boarding a plane amid a flurry of camera flashes at Haneda Airport in Tokyo.

Kei Komuro, a graduate of Fordham University law school, has a job at a New York law firm. Although he has failed his bar exam several times, local media continue to criticize him.

“I love Mako,” he told reporters last month after registering their marriage in Tokyo. The couple did not have to hold a reception or perform any other celebratory ceremonies.

“I want to live the only life I have with the person I love,” he said.

Although Japan appears modern in many ways, values about family relations and the status of women often are seen as somewhat antiquated, rooted in feudal practices.

Such views were accentuated in the public’s reaction to the marriage. Because taxpayer money is used to support the imperial family, some Japanese believe they are entitled to have input in these matters.

Other princesses have married commoners and left the palace. Mako was the first one to draw such an outcry.

Speculation ranged from whether the couple could afford to live in Manhattan to how much money Kei Komuro would earn and if the former princess would end up financially supporting her husband.

Mako is the niece of Emperor Naruhito, who also married a commoner, Masako. Masako suffered mental problems in the strict, controlled life of the Imperial family. Mako’s wedding was the subject of negative media attention. Palace doctors last month described it as a type of trauma stress disorder.

Former Emperor Akihito, the father of the current emperor, was the first member of the imperial family to marry a commoner. His father was the Emperor under which Japan fought in World War II.

The family holds no political power but serves as a symbol of the nation, attending ceremonial events and visiting disaster zones, and remains relatively popular.

Mako’s loss of royal status comes from the Imperial House Law, which allows only male succession. Male royals only have household names. Female imperial family members are limited to titles, and can be forced out if they wed commoners.

Mako is the daughter of the emperor’s younger brother, and her 15-year-old brother is expected to eventually be emperor.

Complicating the former princess’s marriage, announced in 2017, was a financial dispute involving Kei Komuro’s mother. According to Kyodo’s news service, this issue has been resolved.

When Kei Komuro returned from the U.S. in September, the couple was reunited for the first time in three years. Their first meeting was a decade ago at Tokyo’s International Christian University.

In announcing their marriage, the former princess, a museum curator, made her choice clear.

“He is someone I cannot do without,” she said. “Marriage is that decision needed for us to live on, staying true to our hearts.”

Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

This story corrects that the princess gave up her royal status, not the throne.

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