How Mako of Japan, 30, has turned her back on tradition

From rule-following princess to a royal rebel: How Mako of Japan, 30, who studied abroad in Edinburgh and had a work placement at Coventry Museums has turned her back on tradition to wed the New York-based lawyer she met at university

  • Princess Mako of Japan, 30, has married her university boyfriend Kei Komuro
  • The couple met at university before Mako left to study abroad in Edinburgh
  • The royal also studied at Leicester and had a placement at Coventry Museums
  • She has given up her place within the royal family to marry Komuro, a commoner 

Weddings are supposed to be a day of untainted love and joy.

But not so for Japan’s Princess Mako, who has today renounced her royal title after going against tradition to marry her university sweetheart. 

The issue has arisen because her long-term boyfriend Kei Komuro, 30, a lawyer with a New York law firm whom she met at Tokyo’s International Christian University almost a decade ago, is a commoner. 

By marrying him today, Mako, 30, the eldest daughter of Crown Prince Fumihito and niece of reigning Emperor Naruhito, has chosen love over her title, duties as a royal, and official place within the family.

Japan’s strict laws of succession forbid women from ascending to the Chrysanthemum Throne and force them to give up their titles if they marry commoners. 

The wedding has sent shockwaves through Japan – a country where the royal family face huge pressure to conform to tradition and meet exacting standards of behaviour, with each move intensely scrutinised.  

It marks a dramatic, if slow burning, departure for the princess, a graduate of Leicester University who worked at Coventry Museums, who was happy to conform to expectation in her early years. 

Mako, the eldest daughter of Crown Prince Fumihito and niece of Emperor Naruhito, has chosen love over her duties as a royal, and place within the family. Pictured, Mako, right, with her parents and younger sister Kako at t Akasaka Palace in Tokyo in 1999

High profile: Princess Mako of Japan, right, the eldest daughter of Crown Prince Fumihito, donned a traditional Jūnihitoe as she took part in a procession through Tokyo’s Imperial Palace to mark her uncle’s formal ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 2019

Weddings are supposed to be a day of love and joy. But not so for Japan’s Princess Mako, who has been formally removed from the royal family on marrying her university sweetheart. Pictured, the newlyweds at a press conference to announce their low-key civil service in Tokyo

Born on October 23, 1991, Mako is the oldest child of Fumihito, Prince Akishino, and his wife, Princess Kiko, who were college sweethearts, like Mako and Komuro.  

The birth of the first granddaughter to then-Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko was greeted by intense media coverage despite the fact that she could not, by law, inherit the throne. 

This included the proud father telling reporters after viewing his newborn daughter: ‘She’s cute. She looks like me.’

Mako was followed three years later by her sister Kako, and the two were joined by their brother Hisahito in 2006, the first male born to the imperial family since 1965.

The Imperial Household Law of 1947 stipulates that only males in the family’s male line can ascend to the throne.  It means that while Emperor Naruhito has a daughter Aiko, 19, it is his brother the Crown Prince Fumihito who takes precedence. 

Similarly the Crown Prince’s daughters, Mako and Kako, 26, will be passed over in favour of his son Prince Hisahito, 15. 

Princess Mako of Akishino is seen outside the Hayama Imperial Villa on January 26, 1996 in Hayama, Kanagawa, Japan (left) and right, Princess Kiko of Akishino holding her daughter n August 7, 1992 in Karuizawa, Nagano

Japanese Prince Hisahito (C), the son of Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, plays with his sisters Princess Mako (L) and Princess Kako (R) at his residence in Tokyo 31 August 2007

Prince Hisahito (centre), the son of Prince Akishino (left) and Princess Kiko (second left), plays with a dog as Prince Akishino family visits Karuizawa mountain resort in Nagano prefecture on May 3, 2008 while Prince Hisahito’s sisters Princess Mako (fourth left) and Princess Kako (5th left) look on

Princess Mako, in blue, in 2005 with members of the royal family including her parents (back row), uncle, centre, who is now the Emperor, and younger sister, in yellow 

There is only one other man – the Emperor’s 85-year-old uncle, Prince Hitachi – who is eligible for the throne under current rules. 

The stress of royal life: Other Japanese princesses whose health has suffered 

Other female royals have suffered from stress-related illnesses, especially after joining the family through marriage.

Mako’s aunt Empress Masako, a former high-flying diplomat, has struggled for years, with some observers blaming the pressure of producing a male heir. The imperial couple have one daughter, Aiko, who is 19 years old.

And Michiko, wife to Naruhito’s father Akihito and the first commoner to marry into the family, also faced criticism from hardliners and tabloid gossip, especially in the early years of their marriage.

She once lost her voice for months, and has also suffered stomach problems linked to stress.

If the young Prince Hisahito does not have a male child, the line of succession will be broken – prompting some debate about changing the rules, with polls showing the Japanese public broadly support women being allowed to rule.

Although traditionalists are vehemently against the idea, Japan has had as many as eight empresses in the past.

The last one, Gosakuramachi, was on the throne about 250 years ago.

Though Mako initially followed royal tradition and attended the elite Gakushuin school through the end of high school, she broke with custom by not continuing at the institution for her university studies, choosing instead to attend Tokyo’s International Christian University.

It is here she met Komuro, at a meeting of students planning to go abroad in 2012. Komuro, raised by a single mother, had a much less privileged start in life and spent some time working for tourism promotion near Tokyo to earn money.

Mako spent a year at the University of Edinburgh and reportedly studied for a period in Dublin. 

She graduated in 2014 with a degree in art and cultural studies and later obtained a master’s degree in Art Museum and Gallery studies from the University of Leicester. 

As part of her degree programme Princess Mako has also completed a placement at Coventry Museums and collections-based research at New Walk Museum in Leicester.

Speaking at a press opportunity marking the end of her year of taught Master’s degree, Princess Mako said in Japanese that her time at the University of Leicester had been ‘a wonderful experience’.

Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito (L) and Crown Princess Masako (R) waving to people during the parade after their wedding ceremony in Tokyo on 9 June 1993

Princess Kiko and Princess Mako of Akishino visit the ‘Cultural Crossings – Tang Art and the Japanese Envoys’ exhibition at the Tokyo National Museum on August 29, 2000 in Tokyo, Japan

Daughters of Japanese Prince Akishino, Princess Mako (R) and Princess Kako, arrives at the Aiiku hospital to see her mother Princess Kiko and their new baby 06 September 2006

Princess Mako of Akishino poses for photographs prior to attend the graduation ceremony at the International Christian University on March 26, 2014 in Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan

Princess Mako (L) and Princess Kako smile as Mako graduates from Gakushuin girls’ high school and Kako graduates the junior high school in Tokyo on March 22, 2010

End of the line: Princess Mako is expected to lose her royal titles when she marries Kei Komuro, whom she met while studying at International Christian University (ICU) and is set to marry next year after postponing their wedding in 2018. Pictured, the princess in 2011

Japan’s Princess Mako stands on a bulletproofed balcony at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo to greet well-wishers who throng to the palace compound to celebrate Emperor Akihito’s 78th birthday in 2011

Head of the School of Museum Studies Dr Suzanne Macleod said at the time: ‘We have a strong connection to the cultural profession in Japan with many students graduating from our School to take up posts in museums and galleries there and so it felt very natural that Mako should come and follow her interests with us. 

‘She has been a pleasure to teach, has worked incredibly hard and should be very proud of her achievements.’ 

Mako and Komuro became engaged in secret before announcing the news in September 2017. Shortly afterwards it was announced the pair would wed in November 2018.

Trouble erupted a few months after he and Mako announced their engagement in 2017, when tabloids reported a financial dispute between Komuro’s mother and her former fiance, with the man claiming mother and son had failed to repay a debt of about $35,000. 

Princess Mako of Akishino talks with guests during the Autumn Garden Party at Akasaka Imperial Garden on November 09, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan

Princess Mako (in blue) has taken on a more active role within the family in the months since her uncle was made Emperor and her father heir to the throne in May. Pictured (l-r) Princess Kako, 24, and Princess Mako with parents Crown Princess Kiko and Crown Prince Fumihito

Princess Mako of Akishino and Princess Kako of Akishino arrive at the arrive at Shinhama Kamoba (Shinhama Imperial Wild Duck Preserve) on December 17, 2019 in Ichikawa, Chiba, Japan

Some reports say the fiance paid for part of Komuro’s education.  

Komuro later said the money had been a gift, not a loan. But in 2021, he submitted a 24-page explanation and later reportedly said he would pay a settlement.

In September 2018, he left for studies at New York’s Fordham University and didn’t return until September this year, after having graduated from law school and started working at a New York law firm. He took the bar exam in July, with results due in December. 

Meanwhile, Mako had started to take on a more high-profile role within the royal family. In 2019 she donned a traditional Jūnihitoe as she took part in a procession through Tokyo’s Imperial Palace to mark her uncle’s formal ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

She also took on official engagements that would have previously fallen to her parents, including making an official visit to South America in July that year. 

However now she will be leaving it all behind as she joins Komuro to build a new life together in New York. They will do so without royal money. 

Mako has also declined the 140 million yen ($1.23 million) dowry to which she was entitled for leaving the imperial family, palace officials said. 

She is the first imperial family member since World War II to not receive the payment while marrying a commoner and chose to do so because of the criticism over her marrying a man some consider unfit for the princess. 

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito, seated third from left, and Empress Masako, seated third from right, pose with their family members for a family photo, including Mako (standing, far left)

Japanese Princess Mako (L), the eldest daughter of Crown Prince Akishino, and Bolivia’s Foreign Minister Diego Pary attend a wreath laying ceremony at Plaza Murillo in La Paz, on July 15, 2019

Japanese Princess Mako greets children at Okinawa’s Japanese Community, 80km northeast Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on July 19, 2019, during celebrations for the 120th anniversary of the Japanese immigration to Bolivia

Princess Mako of Akishino is seen on departure for Bolivia and Peru at Narita International Airport on July 9, 2019 in Narita, Chiba, Japan

Reading out a prepared statement today, Mako defended her decision to marry while describing Kei as ‘irreplaceable’ and adding that ‘our marriage is a necessary step for us to be able to protect our hearts.’

She also criticised news reports written during their engagement which she accused of spreading false information and ‘one-sided rumours’, which she said had left her ‘feeling sadness and pain.’ 

The royal household previously revealed she is suffering PTSD. 

Kei also apologised but said that he loved Mako and would support her throughout their life together.

‘I love Mako. We only get one life, and I want us to spend it with the one we love,’ he said. ‘I feel very sad that Mako has been in a bad condition, mentally and physically, because of the false accusations.’

The couple did not answer questions to make the experience easier for Mako, but did issue a page of written responses to five pre-selected questions. One asked about Mako’s condition, to which she responded: ‘Not good’. 

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