While the English monarchy is only expanding, with Kate Middleton’s announcement that she is pregnant with her third child with Prince William, the Japanese imperial family is about to decline by one. On Sunday, 25-year-old Princess Mako, the eldest granddaughter of sitting emperor Akihito, announced her plans to marry Kei Komuro, also 25, a legal assistant and college classmate, i.e. a commoner. The marriage comes with a price—her royal title.
According to Japanese laws of succession, women cannot accede to the Chrysanthemum Throne (which is not a set piece from Game of Thrones, we'll have you know), so with a marriage outside the royal family, a princess must also surrender her claim to royalty and take her husband’s name, because the Japanese imperial family tree is not a feminist utopia. (Men are not subject to these same regulations, though Akihito did have to get lawmakers to pass a bill to allow him to abdicate the throne and pass emperor-ship to his son, Crown Prince Narihito.)
But what else is a young woman to do for love (and for the vote; Mako will earn the right to cast one when she marries)—for, in a press conference announcing the news, Mako told reporters she was struck by her fiancé’s “bright smiles like the sun.” (Komuro’s other pastimes, aside from smiling brightly, seem to include playing jazz piano, cooking, and skiing, none of which are particularly plebeian endeavors, but apparently charmed the princess nevertheless.)
The announcement is a long time coming: The couple met at an orientation program for study-abroad students around five years ago, just before she embarked on a semester at the University of Edinburgh. He reportedly proposed to her in December 2013, just a few months before they graduated from the International Christian University in Tokyo (and then, before she returned to the United Kingdom to earn her master’s degree in museum curation). Then, rumors began to spread of Mako’s impending announcement in May of this year, though it was not until this weekend that she made it official.
For all the talk of rescinding royal titles, the marriage is not so scandalous as it sounds: Mako is, rather, the seventh living princess to depart the family upon marriage. Akihito’s two surviving sisters Atsuko and Takako both married outside royal lineage, as did his only daughter, Sayako, the two daughters of the Prince and Princess Mikasa, and their granddaughter, Noriko. As a result, the laws of succession are not-so-slowly suffocating the imperial lineage; even if Mako wanted to marry into the royal family, there are no eligible imperial bachelors left in Japan for her to claim. (The law, the same one that prohibited Akihito from abdicating without legislative approval, was instituted in 1947; prior to that year, Japan had existed under the reign of eight different empresses throughout the imperial family’s approximately 125 generations.)
Nevertheless, it’s conceivable her departure payment of approximately one million British pounds will be some consolation as she leaves the imperial family. And anyways, she seems to be taking it a lot better than another royal who was denied what he believed to be his rightful title.
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