Japan’s weekly magazines occasionally take advantage of serendipitous timing to inflate the significance of certain stories. On Nov. 13, Princess Mako released a statement about her stalled betrothal to Kei Komuro, whom she met in university. Although the two announced plans to marry more than three years ago, they later put off the engagement until after all the rituals surrounding the succession of a new emperor were completed.
That cycle ended in early November when Mako’s father, Prince Akishino, was officially declared the Crown Prince in a formal ceremony. In her statement, Mako reiterated her intention to wed Komuro while acknowledging that some people were “negative” about the match. Coincidentally, her father held his annual birthday press conference and the matter of Mako’s marriage came up. His comment was provocatively equivocal in that he said his daughter’s desire to marry should be “respected” while also implying she needed to make a better case to the public for why it had to be Komuro.
The weeklies grabbed this implied tension and ran with it, exaggerating certain aspects for sensational effect. In his regular roundup of the weeklies in the Dec. 6 Tokyo Shimbun, Hiroyuki Shinoda marveled at how cleverly they twisted the story’s meaning. Shukan Bunshun gave the impression it was digging up more dirt on Komuro’s family, using a headline that suggested the magazine would reveal the “real character” of Komuro and his widowed mother, who allegedly received a loan from a former lover that she has yet to pay back. Shinoda found “no new facts” in the article. It essentially rehashed matters that have already been reported numerous times.
In its headline, Shukan Shincho wielded an imaginative metaphor that likened Komuro to the husband of a beauty salon owner, meaning someone who would live off the labor of his wife. In other words, he is marrying Mako for money, an allusion to the estimated ¥140 million she will receive from the government when she officially “leaves” the royal family after the wedding. Shukan Josei added its own two cents with a story that said, without any hard evidence, that the Crown Prince was “forced” to say he supported the marriage against his will.
Anti-Komuro sentiment was widespread in the media long before Mako’s statement, as was the need to understand and explain it. In line with Crown Prince Akishino’s installment ceremony on Nov. 8, psychiatrist Tamami Katada, writing in Gendai Business, tried to come to grips with the “abnormal” bad feelings at large for Komuro. The money issue that initially sparked these feelings no longer feels like a big deal. It’s only ¥4 million, and the ex-lover has said he isn’t demanding they pay it back. However, the media, supposedly speaking for the public, insist that it’s only right to return the money. Add to that the payout by the government and you get, according to Katada, a situation that brings out latent class “resentments”: If Komuro were an “elite,” someone from a rich, status-secure family, then there wouldn’t be a problem. However, he’s just an average guy — albeit one who is studying to be a lawyer in the United States — and thus undeserving of a princess.
Katada says the lingering pandemic adds anxiety to this toxic mix. Having lost income and maybe even their livelihoods, many people look upon Komuro as a lucky stiff, and lucky stiffs always invite enmity through no fault of their own. Interestingly, Katada, at the end of her analysis, seems to share this outlook, saying that neither Komuro nor his mother has yet to address the money issue “sincerely.” And now it seems that the Imperial Household Agency is saying Komuro must publicly explain the debt situation.
In its regular Koron forum on Dec. 1, the Asahi Shimbun commissioned several writers to address Mako’s dilemma, asking the self-indicting question: Why do we even want to talk about this? Nagoya University associate professor of history Hideya Kawanishi explained Crown Prince Akishino’s upbringing, which emphasized “individual free will.” As a parent and a beneficiary of the postwar Constitution, he wants his daughter to marry whom she wants, but he also must take into account the image and authority of the imperial family. It’s a conundrum, Kawanishi says, that will continue to present itself as long as “Japan uses human beings as its symbol.” The main problem is the media, which exploits the imperial family for its own ends without ever discussing the real meaning of the imperial system.
Still, Kawanishi doesn’t address the perceived public rejection of Komuro, which could simply be media amplification of a minority opinion. After all, the weeklies’ justification for their harsh coverage is based on the intelligence that, following the publication of Mako’s statement, the Imperial Household Agency was supposedly inundated with critical phone calls. But people rarely call public organs with compliments and praise. Only those predisposed to discontent call — usually to complain.
Another Koron contributor, former TV announcer Keiko Kojima, says that Mako is not only free to marry whomever she wants, but is also free to fail at such an endeavor. After all, unless the law is changed, once she marries she’s no longer a member of the imperial family. Why does public opinion even matter?
So it’s surprising that no media outlet remarked on another instance of serendipitous timing, the release of season 4 of the Netflix series, “The Crown,” a worldwide hit that covers the stormy marriage of England’s Crown Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Although there are few points of thematic intersection between the Japanese imperial family and the Windsors, the gist of the Charles-Diana story was that he was forced to marry a woman he didn’t love for the sake of the monarchy, and it ended in disaster. Mako’s feelings for Komuro would seem to be genuine given the amount of grief she’s had to endure as a result of her decision. However, that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing the weeklies would care about. They have a reputation to uphold.
See www.philipbrasor.com for addendums to Media Mix columns.
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