Princess Mako, the eldest grandchild of Emperor Akihito, is to surrender her royal status to tie the knot with Kei Komuro, a legal assistant in a law firm. The star-crossed lovers met in 2012 at a restaurant while they were both studying at the International Christian University in Tokyo. This is not the first time that a commoner stole the heart of an imperial household princess. In 2005, Princess Sayako (Princess Mako’s aunt and only daughter of Emperor Akihito) married an urban planner and was stripped off of her royal status.
Princess Mako and Kei Komuro’s wedding is expected next year and the engagement will be official after the ceremonial exchange of gifts. Mr. Komuro was asked about their engagement plans and he gave a reserved reply.
“Now is not the time for me to comment but I want to speak at the right moment.”
The news does not only concern Princess Mako’s royal status. Japan is facing a declining imperial family and a shortage of future male heirs. And with Princess Mako’s marriage to a commoner reignited the debate of the oldest hereditary monarch’s male-only succession. According to the law, when sons of the royal family marry a commoner, the woman becomes a part of the monarchy – but for a princess, she must leave.
Last year in August, Emperor Akihito hinted his renunciation saying his age could interfere with his duties.
“When I consider that my fitness level is gradually declining, I am worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the State with my whole being as I have done until now,” he expressed.
For the past two centuries, no Japanese emperor had abdicated and the law does not allow it even in the present, but the Japanese parliament is considering legal changes. However, the likely new legislation will not change the male-only succession law. There are only four heirs to the Chrysanthemum Throne: Prince Naruhito and Prince Fumihito (Akihito’s sons), Prince Hisahito (Fumihito’s son), and Prince Masahito (Akihito’s younger brother). In addition, there are six unmarried princesses who’ll lose their royal status if they marry commoners which will result in a shortage of members of the imperial family to carry out public duties.
Chief cabinet secretary Yoshida Suga gave a statement regarding the inadequacy of royals. “There is no change in our view to proceed with consideration of steps to ensure stable imperial succession.”
A recent poll revealed that 86 percent of Japanese are in favor of a female successor to the throne and the remaining numbers are against it. People have a mixed reaction to the issue.
“I personally think a female imperial member should be allowed (to remain in the family),” said Meiko Hirayama, a 44-year-old employee at an accounting firm. “I guess the male line of succession would be kept through the crown prince and his brother, but I think there should be no problem that there could be a female emperor someday.”
“It’s a tradition that has continued for over a thousand years. If we go with the global trend, anyone could be the emperor,” 71-year-old Katsuiji Tsunoda told CNN. “We must respect tradition.”