On Saturday, October 26, Japan’s Princess Mako married her long-time partner, Kei Komuro. Instead of a large and pompous celebration, the Komuro wedding took place at a registry office in Tokyo. The nuptials and following press conference were simple and muted, a common theme in the couple’s approach to the “drama” surrounding their relationship. Mr. Komuro is a “commoner,” and Japanese law requires female imperial members to forfeit their status in the event they marry a commoner. By marrying Kei Komuro, the princess chose to give up her royal status. Since the beginning of their relationship in 2017, frenzied press interest surrounded the couple to a dangerous extent, with Imperial Household Agency officials reporting that Ms. Mako was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to “excessive media coverage.”
Despite the stress and undue pressure, however, the princess appears happy and content with her marriage. At the press conference, the princess stated, “I acknowledge that there are various opinions about our marriage. I feel very sorry for the people to whom we gave trouble. I’m grateful for the people who have been quietly concerned about us, or those who continued supporting us without being confused by baseless information.” She also declared, “I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love.”
Along with her understated wedding, Ms. Mako also chose to turn down a payment of 140 million yen, roughly 1.2 million US dollars, which is traditionally offered to royal women upon departure from the family. Mako and Kei Komuro will move to New York, where Mr. Komuro planned to practice law after taking his bar exam. The exam results were released just days after their wedding, and, according to the New York Post, he did not receive a passing grade. However, Ms. Mako holds a master’s degree in art museum and gallery studies from the University of Leicester in Britain and has worked at a museum in Tokyo for more than five years, so she could reasonably find a job in New York’s art industry.
The excessive coverage, perhaps including this article, begs the question: why do we care so much? As with the British royal family, the media is a major perpetrator that piques our interest in people that seem so unlike us. According to Time Magazine, “Constant media exposure also creates a feedback loop.” Because there is expressed interest in celebrities, the media churns out stories, pictures and other content about them. Because those celebrities are constantly covered by the media, people take interest in them, and so the cycle repeats. “We live in a media-saturated time,” Farley says. “In a sense, there’s no escape. Some people will become interested in the details.”
Farah Stockman from the New York Times suggests that American citizens find interest in monarchical figures as an escapist coping mechanism in response to the complications of our own government: “Amid the uncertainty and bad faith that has overtaken so much of American democracy, it feels good to escape into Avalor, a world [in the television series ‘Elena of Avalor’] where kings and queens rule benevolently over contented villagers, and nobody ever has to worry about voter suppression or the Electoral College. As terrible as the wicked witch is on the show, she’s not nearly as terrifying as the thought of millions of American voters who believe in QAnon or Pizzagate.”
The insider perspective
Hope College Accounting student Yui Oshida (‘24), who hails from Osaka, Japan, provided her opinion and understanding on the situation. “Before WWII, until the United States changed the Japanese constitution, the royal family was thought to be a God,” she said, explaining the cultural and historical context behind the royal marriage. Oshida explained that this deification was manipulated by the United States, who altered the Japanese constitution during their WWII occupation in Japan to name the emperor as a purely “symbolic” ruler. These alterations also included instituting local governments, giving women equal rights, and establishing civil liberties. Sovereignty now rested with the people, but Oshida states that “it was easier for America to leave the head of Japan because the Japanese royal family had to obey America anyway. If the royal family obeys, all Japanese obey.”
Oshida explained that while members of the royal family are still considered as the descendants of “Amaterasu Oomikami,” which roughly translates into “God of the sun,” she “[doesn’t] think many people care… Only 2 percent of the population in Japan are religious.” Essentially, the royal family still holds some cultural influence over the citizens of Japan, but they have less political power than they once did.
When asked about the general public opinion about the Komuro marriage, Oshida expressed that there wasn’t much interest in it within her social circles. “Older people tend to be more respectful, and there are people who have stronger pride for [the royal family],” she admitted. Overall, however, she said they mostly gain attention through stories in the media and don’t heavily impact her experience or education. “I do appreciate that they are on duty for their lives,” she said. “There are some people who say they want to be part of the royal family, but for me, it looks like there are so many restrictions in their lives, that they cannot [be free].