Japanese princess gives up her title for love
Princess Mako is engaged to a commoner: an aspiring lawyer once crowned “prince of the sea” for an ad campaign. When married, she will lose her royal status for good. Why do we care so much?
There has been no shortage of news this week. The scandals engulfing Donald Trump. The aftershocks of a global cyber attack. In Japan today, the government will begin the process of allowing 83-year-old Emperor Akihito to abdicate.
But all week, another story has been occupying the Japanese press: the engagement of Akihito’s granddaughter, Princess Mako, to a commoner named Kei Komuro.
Speculation has been swirling around the couple all week. Although the engagement is still unofficial, media began reporting it on Tuesday. On Wednesday, journalists waited outside the law offices in Tokyo where Komuro works. “I want to speak at the right time,” he said coyly.
The Imperial Household has now confirmed that official plans are underway. And yesterday the news was one of the most read stories on several websites — not just in the Japanese press, but also the BBC and Vogue.
Why the interest? Because marrying Komuro will mean the princess loses her royal status. She will no longer be a member of the Imperial family. She will lose her allowance, begin paying taxes, and gain the right to vote.
This has only happened once before — when her Aunt Sayako married an urban planner in 2005. She had to adjust to her new life by learning how to drive, shop in a supermarket, and order furniture.
The news has sparked a political row in Japan about the monarchy’s rules of succession. These, established in 1947, prevent female royalty from taking the throne and require them to give up their status if they marry outside their family.
The law has led to an increasingly small royal family, with only four male heirs. The sons of female members do not count, meaning that if Mako’s 10-year-old brother does not have a son one day, the 2,600-year-old line of succession will end.
But it is not just royal family drama driving the story’s popularity. It is the fairytale-like narrative: a reverse Cinderella forsaking her fortune for love. It is Shakespeare’s Cymbeline come to life. It is The Prince and The Pauper with a romantic twist.
Love or money
Why does this story fascinate us? For many, it is the romance — a triumph of true love over wealth and status. Who does not like to believe that we too will one day find a person so special that we would give up everything for them? Or, even better, a person who would give up everything for us?
What nonsense, say others. This story is compelling because it is proof that behind the ritual and tradition, royals are ordinary people. Mako already has a job in a museum. Now she will abandon her privileges and experience a completely normal life, like the rest of us. In a world of vast inequality, there is something oddly satisfying about that.
- Would you ever give up all of your money for love?
- Is this a story about romance or politics?
- Write a list of things that Princess Mako needs to know about how to live a normal life in 2017.
- Rewrite this news story as if it were a fairytale. “Once upon a time, there was a princess…”
Some People Say...
“Royal families are outdated — we should get rid of them.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Japanese media began to report the plans for an engagement on Tuesday night. These reports were soon confirmed by the Imperial Household Agency, although the engagement is not yet official. If the marriage goes ahead, the Japanese Imperial family will decrease to just 18 members — with 13 of these being female.
- What do we not know?
- When the marriage will take place, and whether or not Japan will change its rules of succession to allow female members to take the throne. The public mostly seems to support this change. However, more conservative Japanese people — including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — are against breaking what they claim is 125 generations of male succession.
- Emperor Akihito
- After the second world war the Japanese emperor took on a symbolic role. Last year Akihito, emperor since his father died in 1989, expressed his desire to retire.
- A royal engagement in Japan is a fairly complex affair — Komuro must first send a messenger to the Imperial Palace with gifts to make it official.
- Political row
- A Kyodo News poll this month found 86% of the Japanese public favour allowing a woman to reign. But the conservative government shows no signs of changing this law.
- After the second world war Japan was forced to create a new constitution. Among other provisions,it no longer recognised the Imperial family as divine.
- An old folk tale, told by the Grimm brothers, of a poor servant girl who marries into royalty, becoming rich.
- In Shakespeare’s play Imogen, the daughter of an ancient British king (Cymbeline), marries the low-born Posthumus against her father’s wishes.
- The Prince and The Pauper
- In Mark Twain’s novel, Henry VIII’s son Edward swaps places with a pauper, and must adjust to life on the streets of London.