When last we visited Princess Mako and her boyfriend, Kei Komuro, the couple’s wish to marry had finally received the blessing of her father, Crown Prince Akishino, albeit with lingering reservations.
The media was still set against Komuro as a suitor to royalty for reasons mostly having to do with money, be it the loan his mother had yet to pay back to a former lover or the windfall that Mako would receive upon marrying and which some press outlets implied was Komuro’s reason for pursuing her.
The media’s negative view of Komuro continues to affect public opinion. The March 20 issue of weekly magazine Shukan Asahi published the results of a survey that showed 97% of respondents were opposed to the marriage. The survey was conducted on the internet, and such research tends to attract respondents who like to complain, but still that’s a pretty overwhelming reaction.
Another development that stimulated the media was the interview American talk show maven Oprah Winfrey conducted with the United Kingdom’s Duke and Duchess of Sussex, more familiarly known as Harry and Meghan. Though the particulars of their respective situations, not to mention the scale of the coverage, could not be more dissimilar, at least two Japanese outlets couldn’t resist trying to find parallels between Komuro and Meghan.
One was the weekly magazine Aera. Owing perhaps to its one-time reputation as a publication that catered to younger university-educated women, it has presented the Mako-Komuro saga as an illustration of the pitfalls of matrimony for the sake of love, even if it was taking place in the Imperial household. In its March 29 issue, writer Makiko Yabe characterized Meghan and Komuro as outsiders crashing very exclusive parties.
One of the experts she quotes, professor Naotaka Kimizuka of Kanto Gakuin University, found the divergences more compelling than the similarities. Meghan is older than Komuro and “fully formed as an adult,” having already enjoyed a career as a successful actress. Unlike the late Princess Diana, who married Prince Charles, heir apparent to the British throne, at a tender age and had no idea what she was getting into, Meghan did not tolerate the parochial prejudices she experienced in the House of Windsor and thus used the Winfrey platform to air grievances.
Kimizuka thinks that, unlike Meghan, Komuro may not fully understand the ramifications of marrying Mako. He met her in university and fell in love with intentions to marry without giving much thought to his position in the scheme of things, a theory that flies in the face of the general opinion, advanced by the media and bought by the public, that Komuro, like Meghan, is marrying for status.
Meghan and Harry left the U.K. and now live in California, but not until after they were married did problems arise. In February, Emperor Naruhito gave his qualified approval for Mako’s and Komuro’s union, so the wedding could take place this year. A government panel is now discussing imperial succession and whether to allow female members to remain in the imperial household after they marry commoners. Under current law, if Komuro marries Mako, she will immediately leave the imperial household, but with a huge severance package. The March 20 Shukan Asahi article also said that even if Mako leaves she and Komuro will still receive “special treatment,” such as security, that will cost taxpayers money.
In an article for President Online, Masahiko Motoki took a more incidental approach to the Meghan-Komuro nexus. Citing the Shukan Asahi survey, he thinks that people are afraid that Komuro will undermine the foundation of Japan’s imperial family by marrying into it. The same worries dogged Meghan when her wedding to Harry was announced. He seems to agree with this interpretation, but for different reasons. He points out that Meghan made her name in show business by playing a talented paralegal on the long-running TV series “Suits,” and this experience made her more sensitive to social issues as a public person. Komuro was a genuine paralegal in Tokyo and has spent the past several years in the U.S. studying law. He plans to take the New York State bar examination this year. Motoki says that just as Meghan’s make-believe experience in the legal world has informed her take on public responsibility as a British royal, Komuro may use his own knowledge of the law to address the unifying traditions of the Japanese imperial family.
If this is true, then the question is how these opinions will manifest themselves. Meghan now talks candidly about the problems inherent in the palace, including latent racism. Similarly, Komuro, on April 8, released a long statement reasserting his intention to marry Mako while plainly explaining his difficulties in settling the money problem with his mother’s ex. Given his previous reticence to address these matters publicly, the statement is bold and seems to have impressed the Imperial Household Agency. If anything, it feels like a challenge to the media as an acknowledgement that he has to do more to make the public understand the actual circumstances behind their stories.
Motoki speculates that if Mako and Komuro do marry and Mako leaves the imperial family, they could end up living in the U.S., where they might do their own Meghan-like interview exposing what happens behind the scenes in Japan’s imperial household. That doesn’t sound likely, and not just because they aren’t the kind of people who spill secrets. The American media isn’t very interested in the Japanese imperial family. The Japanese media compares Komuro to Meghan simply because they want to keep the story in play until the next development, and now that Komuro has called their bluff they may have to recalibrate their approach to the narrative they’ve created. Maybe he has more in common with Meghan than they thought.
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