Japan’s rebellious Princess Mako, a niece of Emperor Naruhito, and her commoner fiancé are the Asian version of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle — leaving behind a royal life amid controversy to start anew in the US.
But the story gripping Japan is a media soap opera that’s cast Kei Komuro, Mako’s ponytail-wearing husband-to-be, as a shrewd hustler with a savvy, pushy mother.
If you believe Japan’s notorious gossip “weeklies,” the princess is eloping with a con man who will be whisking her off to an uncertain future in New York City — close to penniless.
Those who support Mako, however, see her decision to marry Komuro and move to the US as an opportunity to escape the stuffy, patriarchal world of her family and its Chrysanthemum Throne — which, according to imperial law, only males can inherit.
The princess and Komuro, both 29, announced Friday that they’ve finally set a wedding date, Oct. 26, after a four-year engagement dogged by a scandal involving Komuro’s mother, Kayo.
After the wedding, the couple plans to move to New York City where Komuro has a job with the Midtown law firm Lowenstein Sandler LLP. He graduated from Fordham University Law School in Manhattan, where his classmates included John McEnroe’s daughter, Anna, in May 2021.
Komuro kept a low profile during his three years at the school to avoid being hounded by Japanese reporters in NYC, the Brooklyn-based journalist Kasumi Abe told The Post.
“He was in hiding the whole time,” Abe said. “He lived in the Fordham dorms for awhile but nobody really saw him” — a calculated move because of “how tough the [Japanese] media can be on him and Princess Mako.”
While Friday’s wedding announcement should have been a happy event, there was a plot twist: That same day, an aide to the family of Crown Prince Akishino, Mako’s father, held a press conference to say that the princess has developed complex post-traumatic stress disorder because of the negative press about her and Komuro.
The aide was joined by a psychiatrist who said the princess’s symptoms included an inability to concentrate, lack of energy and irritability, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The upsetting coverage has centered on her future mother-in-law, Kayo Komuro, a single mom who worked in a bakery until recently. Kayo managed to successfully raise her son despite little money and a string of family tragedies, according to some reports.
Komuro’s father died by suicide when the boy was 10; his paternal grandfather, reportedly devastated by the news, killed himself a week later. His grandmother reportedly committed suicide a year after that, although The Post could not confirm that.
But a few years ago, an ex-boyfriend of Kayo’s went to the media and accused her of not repaying a roughly $40,000 loan from him that she may or may not have used to help pay for some of Komuro’s elite education.
As a result, several sources told The Post, Kayo has been portrayed as a money-grubbing social climber who took cash from men to put her son through international schools so he could snag a royal like Princess Mako.
Her son, in an effort to quell public concern over his mother’s alleged debt, released a 28-page memo explaining it to media in April. Komuro said the controversy was a dispute between his mom and her ex-fiancé over whether the money was a gift or a loan — and vowed to pay it back himself.
One Tokyo native, who now lives in Los Angeles and is familiar with the situation, said that mother-in-law Kayo is “the heroine in this. She brought up her son well and now he’s the reason Princess Mako may have a chance at a real life.”
Maybe — at least to Western observers. But in Japan, where the Imperial Family likes to claim that it dates back more than 2,600 years (historians say the current incarnation came about in 1868), a princess marrying a possibly shady commoner is shocking.
“The way some Japanese see it, Mako is marrying a guy [with] a single mother who hooked up with some guy who paid for her son’s education,” Jennifer Matsui, an American writer who’s lived in Tokyo for 30 years, told The Post.. “As far as they’re concerned, she’s got a black widow vibe and a bit of a hoochie mama thing going on.”
The princess reportedly renounced the $1.35 million she would receive from the Imperial Family if she married nobility. The money is compensation given to females who automatically lose their royal status when they marry.
Still, said Ken Ruoff, director of the Center for Japanese Studies at Portland State University: “I’m not sure if it will make any difference in quieting down the scandal.”
Ruoff, who is the author of “Japan’s Imperial House in the Postwar Era 1945-2019,” said the comparisons to Harry and Meghan are correct in that Princess Mako is making “it very clear that she doesn’t care about the rituals and traditions of the family and the money.”
The difference, he said, is that Prince Harry grew up in one of the richest families in the world. The Imperial Family, in contrast, was stripped of most of its power and wealth just after World War II and is now largely a ceremonial symbol.
“I’ll eat my baseball cap if Princess Mako and her husband exploit their royal connections in the tawdry way Prince Harry and Meghan Markle did,” Ruoff said. “Harry knows nothing but money and how to raise it and Markle had years of experience in show business. These two are much more sheltered.”
Mako and Komuro met in 2012 at a restaurant when they were both students at the International Christian University in Tokyo.
They were originally supposed to get married in 2018 when Mako’s grandfather, Akihito, was still emperor of Japan.
Komuro left the US for Tokyo last week with his hair in a ponytail, resulting in outraged stories in Japanese media about how inappropriate the hairstyle was for a man marrying into the Imperial Family. He is currently in a two-week COVID travel quarantine at home in Yokohama.
Princess Mako has a master’s degree in art museum and gallery studies from the University of Leicester in England. On Thursday, she quit her job as a special researcher at the University of Tokyo’s museum, where she had worked since 2016, according to Japan Times.
She is not the first royal Japanese female to be described by palace doctors as having mental health issues. One of the oddest stories involving the Imperial Family in recent years has been the saga of Mako’s aunt, Empress Masako, the wife of Emperor Naruhito who ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne in 2019.
Masako was a highly educated (Harvard and Oxford) diplomat when she met and later became engaged to Naruhito. Her father was also a diplomat and she grew up in Moscow and New York before the family returned to Japan.
“She was sold as Japan’s new modern, educated princess,” Matsui said. “Then something happened. For one thing, Princess Diana out there talking too much and that scared everyone. [Then Masako] never was able to produce a male heir and got shamed for it. So they put her back on the shelf and turned her into a doll. She wasn’t seen for like 20 years and everyone was told she had a syndrome called ‘adjustment disorder.’”
In news reports published in 2019, around the time of her 56th birthday, palace doctors described Masako’s gradual return to public life as if they were referencing a fragile child.
The Empress had “been able to expand her activities and regained confidence little by little as she constantly sought ways to maintain her health while taking care of her daughter, Princess Aiko. Warm welcome from the people also gave her encouragement,” read one statement from her doctors.
She is still described as being in “recovery” from her mental health issues.
Japanese women in New York, like Kasumi Abe, hope Mako will get over her alleged PTSD and escape the scrutiny of that country’s media — and the palace — when she arrives in New York.
Mako is reportedly pursuing work in Manhattan galleries.
“It was like she was in a cage when she was living as part of the Imperial Family,” Abe told The Post. “Now Mako will be one of the few women from the Japanese royal family to move overseas. But since she has given up the money, they probably won’t have a lot. So she really needs to get a job!”
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