Princess Mako, the niece of Emperor Naruhito, and her long-time boyfriend, Kei Komuro, will tie the knot by the end of the year and start a new journey in their lives after a nearly four-year delay since the initial announcement of their engagement.

All eyes are now on Komuro, the princess’s college classmate, who returned to the capital on Monday to start preparations for the wedding. It is his first visit to Japan since he left for New York in August 2018 to study at law school.

To the surprise of the Japanese public, Komuro was sporting longer hair tied into a ponytail when he departed from JFK Airport on Sunday.

Komuro will now self-isolate for 14 days through Oct. 11 in line with Japan’s quarantine protocols.

The delayed marriage will be held without traditional fanfare. The couple, who will both turn 30 in October, will also likely need to make do without the perks that Imperial Family members are usually entitled to upon marriage — a consequence of how tidbits about the Komuro family’s financial troubles came to eclipse their love story.

Here is some background and the latest news on the couple’s delayed marriage:

Why has the pair’s wedding been delayed?

Princess Mako, the daughter of Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko, met her boyfriend in 2012 when she was a student at International Christian University in Tokyo — both attended a meeting for students hoping to study abroad. The couple announced in September 2017 their plan to get engaged.

Kei Komuro, Princess Mako's boyfriend, arrives at Narita Airport on Monday. | KYODO
Kei Komuro, Princess Mako’s boyfriend, arrives at Narita Airport on Monday. | KYODO

The engagement announcement by the Imperial Household Agency was the first formal step in a marriage process that even at that point was expected to take over a year — their wedding was originally scheduled to take place in November 2018. But things did not go as planned.

The planned marriage was abruptly delayed in February 2018 following reports that Komuro’s mother was in a financial dispute with her former fiance, who claimed she owed him over ¥4 million.

In an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in January 2019, the former fiance, who claimed that he had lent around ¥4 million in cash to the mother of the aspiring lawyer, said that the dispute had not yet been settled.

The crown prince said he approved of the couple’s marriage. However, he urged Komuro to make a visible effort to resolve the dispute. Komuro’s lawyers in April said that he had expressed his intention to settle the issue.

The decision to go ahead with the marriage followed a 24-page statement released by Komuro through his lawyers on April 8.

In the statement, the 29-year-old vowed to “correct erroneous information as much as possible,” referring to news reports about the disagreement between his mother and her ex-fiance. The man had claimed the sum he lent to Komuro’s mother included expenses for Komuro’s education, while the mother regarded the money as a gift.

Princess Mako in October 2020 | IMPERIAL HOUSEHOLD AGENCY / VIA KYODO
Princess Mako in October 2020 | IMPERIAL HOUSEHOLD AGENCY / VIA KYODO

What happens when a female member weds a commoner?

Under the Imperial Household Law introduced in 1947, female members of the imperial family have no succession rights to the chrysanthemum throne and need to leave the family if they marry commoners. They must also renounce their titles, membership of the imperial family and allowance from the state.

Princess Mako will have her name listed in the official family registry, which applies to all citizens except for the imperial family. That will allow her to obtain her first passport, as imperial family members don’t need them.

The princess will be the third female member to marry a commoner since the marriage of her aunt, former Princess Nori, the younger sister of the emperor. The former princess, who now goes by the name Sayako Kuroda, left the imperial household upon her marriage in 2005 to Yoshiki Kuroda, an urban planning official at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. To prepare for her new chapter in life, the former Princess Nori learned how to drive and how to shop at the supermarket.

Princess Nori’s marriage made headlines as the first case of a daughter of an imperial couple getting married since 1960, when Princess Suga, Mako’s grand aunt and the fifth daughter of Emperor Showa and Empress Nagako, married Hisanaga Shimazu. Not only did she marry a commoner, but she also broke with family tradition by taking a job, working as a consultant at the exclusive Seibu Pisa store in the Tokyo Prince Hotel.

What will Princess Mako’s wedding ceremony and related rituals look like?

Traditionally, when a female member of the imperial family marries, the household agency holds an official engagement ceremony called Nosai no Gi, which represents betrothal. In the ceremony, the families of the betrothed exchange gifts. The ritual is then followed by the Choken no Gi, in which the couple officially meets and thanks the emperor and empress.

Both ceremonies are held at the Imperial Palace.

Kei Komuro, the boyfriend of Princess Mako, is surrounded by airport staff at JFK airport in New York before he departs for Tokyo on Sunday. | KYODO
Kei Komuro, the boyfriend of Princess Mako, is surrounded by airport staff at JFK airport in New York before he departs for Tokyo on Sunday. | KYODO

But following the controversies that resulted in the delay of the marriage of Princess Mako and her partner, the agency is planning to forgo the rituals this time.

Such ceremonies were held for former Princess Nori. The princess and Kuroda also celebrated their wedding in a small ceremony at a hotel in November 2005, including members of the pair’s families. The reception that followed was attended by 130 guests.

It is also a tradition that women from the imperial household, who will be stripped of their noble status, are entitled to a dowry from the government — the Kurodas were granted such a lump sum. The one-time, tax-free payment is aimed at helping them make a fresh start in life.

The amount is decided before the marriage at a meeting of the Imperial Household Economy Council, which comprises the prime minister and other senior government officials. In the council’s calculations, the amount paid in previous cases is taken into consideration and it needs to be approved by the Cabinet.

Under previous estimates, Princess Mako was said to be entitled to up to about ¥150 million. The payment is guaranteed under law, however the princess has reportedly decided to turn down the money, and according to reports, the government has accepted Princess Mako’s intent to decline the payment.

The unprecedented move has been discussed by the government, as there is no legal provision governing such cases.

Kei Komuro in New York in August 2018 | KYODO
Kei Komuro in New York in August 2018 | KYODO

What does the future hold for Princess Mako and Kei Komuro?

The couple is looking to register their marriage in October. Following the marriage procedures, which will be held without pomp, the couple are set to start a new life in New York by the end of the year, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Earlier this year, Komuro graduated with a Juris Doctor degree from Fordham University’s law school, which is located in New York. He attended a doctoral program for two years after taking a one-year master’s course.

Komuro, who took the New York state bar exam in July, has already started working at a local law firm. Depending on the results of the exam, which are expected to be announced around mid-December, he may be officially promoted to an attorney position.

The princess, who works as a researcher at the museum of the University of Tokyo, will leave her position at the end of this month.

Princess Mako enrolled in an exchange program to study art history at the University of Edinburgh while she was a student at International Christian University. She later earned a master’s degree in art museum and gallery studies at the University of Leicester in England in 2016.

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