This past week, the woman formerly known as Princess Mako married Kei Komuro — a sentence I can’t write without a rush of sentimentality and a box of tissues nearby. You see, I’ve secretly been rooting for Mako for the past 3½ years. And so have a bunch of my friends.
Reiko works at Narita Airport and was on duty when Komuro arrived there on Sept. 27 ahead of his marriage Tuesday.
“I couldn’t believe the hullabaloo over Komuro-san’s hair,” she told me. “So what if the guy had a ponytail? He couldn’t get to a barber in New York because of the pandemic, that’s all. Why can’t people leave the poor couple alone?”
Ryoko, an acquaintance who works as an attorney in New York, agreed.
“I’m so glad the princess got married right after her 30th birthday,” she said. “Actually, she was planning to get married before she turned 30 but it didn’t pan out. Still, it’s only a three-day time lag and she can tell herself that she’s borderline 29. For Japanese women, there’s a huge difference between marrying in one’s 20s and marrying past ‘the big three-oh.’ Which is why I’m so glad she got the whole thing over with. She’s now done with traditional Japanese values and free to live the rest of her life, away from here.”
Let’s hope so. The Komuros may not have had the kind of fairy-tale wedding that we’ve seen with other royal couples, but this tale sure had its share of dragons. One was the issue of age that Ryoko mentioned, and there was the ponytail that Reiko talked about. But these were only small chapters in a media frenzy and subsequent public backlash that has defined the couple’s time in the spotlight.
Coverage came in the form of polls — Aera dot. reported in March that 97.6% of people surveyed were opposed to the nuptials — and by way of unwarranted comparisons — Daily Shincho pit the 30-year-old Komuro against the commoner husband of Mako’s aunt, Sayako Kuroda, noting that Yoshiki Kuroda had a respectable job working for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government when he wed a royal. Meanwhile, Komuro’s bar exam results are still pending. Who knew that marrying a future lawyer could be considered a bad thing?
Finally, there was the scandal that surrounded Kayo Komuro, Kei’s mother, and a financial dispute involving money she allegedly owes to an ex-fiance. Shukan Josei Prime presented a lengthy summary of the events last year that is still ranking on the site’s list of trending stories.
Shortly before and after the marriage, however, there has been a slight uptick in positive coverage.
Perhaps to atone for all of its mudslinging, women’s magazine Josei Jishin has been running good news about the couple lately. An article on Oct. 19 speculated on the future that awaited the newlyweds in New York.
“When Komuro passes the bar exam in December, his yearly salary will come to about ¥20 million,” the magazine quotes a Japanese reporter in New York, who adds it wouldn’t be enough to live there comfortably since the cost of living is expensive. The reporter says there are rumors that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is set to hire Princess Mako as a curator and, if that happens, her salary will come to ¥15 million, making their household income ¥35 million a year.
Another Josei Jishin piece extolled Komuro’s performance as a public speaker, “He’s like a different person,” reads the headline, adding that even professionals are impressed and that maybe his time in the U.S. has given him new confidence.
Some polls seemed to have changed for the better, too. Josei Jishin points out that a Yomiuri Shimbun survey on Oct. 4 and 5 found 53% of respondents happy with the marriage and 33% opposed, while an ANN poll from Oct. 16 and 17 found 61% were up for celebrating the nuptials as opposed to 24% who weren’t.
“Once Princess Mako manages to get herself to the U.S., the online abuse and defamation will die down,” a journalist close to the Imperial Agency tells News Post Seven, though she says there may still be interest or outrage directed at Kayo Komuro.
Does that mean there will be some sort of reflection on the coverage once things have cooled off a bit? HuffPost Japan ran a post-wedding assessment that decried Japan’s “fierce bashing” society.
“From some point, the abuse directed at Komuro’s mother escalated and became unstoppable,” Seijo University professor Yohei Mori tells the outlet, adding that many didn’t care whether information from the media was really true or not. “Users’ comment sections on Yahoo! Japan show that such a trend is quite obvious.”
Meanwhile, Kazuko Ito, an attorney and secretary general of the nongovernmental organization Human Rights Now, wrote in President magazine that the rhetoric surrounding Princess Mako’s marriage is abnormal.
“Marrying a person of one’s choice and acting on one’s own free will, is a critically important human right,” she says. “To oppose that through public dissent is like moving the clock back to the feudal era. … This indicates that the level of public awareness regarding human rights is very low in this country.”
Let’s hope Mako Komuro’s younger sister, Princess Kako, has an easier time if and when she chooses to announce her marriage plans.
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