• AFP-Jiji, Kyodo

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Japan’s former princess Mako Komuro arrived in the United States on Sunday with her husband, swapping ancient imperial rites for the bright lights of New York after leaving the royal family.

The pair tied the knot in Tokyo last month in muted fashion, following years of tabloid gossip and online sniping over their union that Komuro said caused her “sadness and pain.”

Footage broadcast on Japanese TV channels showed the couple flanked by security officials as they made their way through New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and into a waiting vehicle.

A move to the U.S. had long been rumored. The two 30-year-olds finally boarded a commercial flight Sunday from Tokyo to New York, where Kei Komuro attended law school and now works.

Their departure follows an apparent settlement of a financial dispute involving Kei Komuro’s mother and her former fiance, who reportedly agreed to receive “settlement money” in a meeting with Komuro on Friday night in Tokyo.

On Sunday morning, some 100 reporters had gathered at Haneda airport to get a glimpse of the couple, who looked stern-faced as they walked through the departure lobby. But the newlyweds smiled at each other when they reached near the boarding gate.

In an unprecedented step for an imperial marriage, the niece of Emperor Naruhito skipped the usual traditional rites and turned down a lump-sum payment of about ¥150 million in taxpayers’ money, amid public unease over the dispute.

Former princess Mako Komuro and her husband Kei Komuro board a flight bound for New York at Haneda airport in Tokyo on Sunday. | REUTERS
Former princess Mako Komuro and her husband Kei Komuro board a flight bound for New York at Haneda airport in Tokyo on Sunday. | REUTERS

Mako lost her imperial title when she married a commoner under postwar succession laws that only allow male members of the imperial family to ascend to the throne.

After announcing their engagement in 2017, the Komuros were confronted with a barrage of reports alleging that Kei’s family had run into financial difficulties.

Japan’s royals are held to exacting standards, and the Imperial Household Agency said Mako developed complex post-traumatic stress disorder because of the media attention.

“I have been scared, feeling sadness and pain whenever one-sided rumors turn into groundless stories,” Mako said at a press conference after their marriage.

Kei said he felt “very sad that Mako has been in a bad condition, mentally and physically,” declaring: “I love Mako. We only get one life, and I want us to spend it with the one we love.”

The controversy surrounding the pair, and their U.S. move, has drawn inevitable comparisons to another royal couple: Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Japanese media said the Komuros, who met at university in Tokyo, have already secured a place to live in New York, though it was not clear where in the city they had chosen to set up their new life.

The original plan had been for Kei to travel to the United States ahead of Mako, with the former princess joining him after she got her first passport, reports said.

But Kei stayed in Japan longer than expected to attend the funeral of Mako’s grandfather.

Former Princess Mako Komuro bows before entering a vehicle with her husband Kei Komuro as they arrived at John F. Kennedy airport in New York on Sunday. | POOL / VIA KYODO
Former Princess Mako Komuro bows before entering a vehicle with her husband Kei Komuro as they arrived at John F. Kennedy airport in New York on Sunday. | POOL / VIA KYODO

He returned to Japan from the United States in late September for the first time in more than three years. Following the marriage, the couple lived in a Tokyo condominium, with Kei Komuro sleeping during the day and remote-working at night for the law firm in New York, sources said.

He took the New York state bar examination in July but failed. The result, which became known immediately after their marriage, was met with surprise in Japan, with a senior Imperial Household Agency official saying it was “unexpected.”

He is expected to retake the exam in February. The official, who asked to be anonymous, expressed hope that Kei Komuro “concentrates on preparations for the exam, even if that means he has to take some time off from work,” as whether or not he becomes a lawyer will greatly affect the couple’s livelihood in New York.

With a dwindling number of male royals, there has been some debate over changing the rules in Japan, with polls showing the public broadly supports women being allowed to rule.

But any change is likely to be slow, with traditionalists vehemently opposed.

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