This week, New York City welcomed a very special new resident: a woman formerly known as Princess Mako of Japan. Why formerly? In October, Mako married a nonroyal man whom the press keeps calling a commoner, thus surrendering her royal status. It’s all very exciting but also pretty sad, and it reaffirms the fact that Anne Hathaway (and, more recently, Meghan Markle) was right about how being a princess is absolute hell. But now that she is no longer a princess, things seem to be looking up for Mako. She married a law-school graduate (hot), got new bangs (exciting), and boldly declared her independence from the imperial family by renting a condo in Hell’s Kitchen. Hurrah!
The path that led Mako and her new husband, Kei Komuro, to this Hell’s Kitchen condo (which, it’s worth mentioning, has a spa and a golf simulator, whatever that is) is long and twisty, and it involves a scandalous man ponytail. Let’s dive in.
Who is Mako’s family?
Mako is (was, actually) a member of the Japanese imperial family, the 2,000-year-old lineage of the country’s emperor. The family has held a largely ceremonial role since 1947 when Japan passed the Imperial Household Law governing who could sit on the Chrysanthemum Throne. Although women have not been allowed to rule as empresses since 1889, the law added a stipulation that any woman who marries a commoner (i.e., a nonroyal) immediately renounces her royal status and becomes a commoner herself. If she has male children, none of them will be eligible for the throne either. The law also dictates that these women, of which there have been nine since the law was put in place, get a dowry of about $1.3 million to start their new lives — something Mako has chosen to forego.
Mako’s marriage has also jump-started a long-standing debate about the rapidly shrinking succession line of the imperial family, which currently has only three potential heirs to the throne (one of whom is Mako’s 15-year-old brother). Most of the Japanese public seems to want the excessive restrictions broadened regarding who can inherit the role so that people like Mako’s children or royal women could rule.
When did Kei Komuro enter the picture?
After meeting at Tokyo’s International Christian University in 2011, Mako and Komuro announced their engagement in 2017. A few months later, tabloids started reporting on an ongoing financial dispute between Komuro’s mother, Kayo, and her ex-fiancé, using it to suggest that Komuro was also a grifter hoping to mooch off the imperial family’s money. The disagreement revolved around a $35,000 loan the ex made to Kayo, which he claimed had not been repaid. In April, Komuro released a 28-page memo (!!) explaining that he and his mother had originally thought the loan was a gift and saying he had made a settlement offer to his mother’s ex. Why this took 28 pages to explain is beyond me, but I must respect the commitment, I guess. In any case, shortly after Komuro’s manifesto dropped, the ex released a statement apologizing for “causing a stir in society,” and outlets reported this week that he and Komuro had reached a settlement resolving the issue.
Of course, the press has found more reasons to criticize Komuro. He was attacked for failing the New York State bar exam in July (sad). There’s a lot of concern that he’s not respecting Japanese values, namely by quitting a job at a Japanese bank and speaking fluent English. His style, including a pinstripe suit that one tabloid claims sent the imperial family into a rage, has also been criticized. Of utmost concern: He was recently spotted wearing a ponytail when he arrived in Japan for his wedding, which appears to have infuriated the media because the hairstyle is “not lawyerlike.”
How has the couple been handling all this attention?
In October, the Imperial Household Agency announced that Mako had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, citing the media attention she and Komuro have received since announcing their engagement. After postponing the event for three years (they were supposed to wed in 2018), they married on October 26 without any of the traditional lavish ceremonies typical of an imperial wedding. Mako chose to forego the celebrations, opting instead to hold a brief press conference after an official from the imperial family submitted paperwork announcing their marriage. She’s also passing up the taxpayer-funded dowry she’s entitled to as a woman marrying out of the imperial family, making her the first to do so, and the couple went so far as to rent their own room for the press conference so they wouldn’t be accused of wasting taxpayer money. Mako told reporters, “Kei is irreplaceable for me. For us, marriage is a necessary choice to live while cherishing our hearts.”
Mako’s family hasn’t spoken much about how they feel about the marriage, but her parents seem half-heartedly supportive: They released a statement around the time of the wedding, saying their “feelings never wavered even once” amid all the press surrounding their daughter and her fiancé. Legally barred from living with her parents in the imperial quarters, Mako and Komuro briefly moved to Tokyo after they were married, then flew to New York on Monday.
How are they settling in New York?
Good, it seems! Komuro has been here for three years studying at Fordham, where he apparently lived in the dorms in order to fly under the radar. He’ll have another chance to take the bar exam in February, and until he passes, he’s got a gig clerking at a Manhattan law firm. Mako is hoping to get a visa so she can put her art degree to use (maybe David Zwirner has a spot open for her?). Their apartment, which I guess is considered humble for the emperor of Japan’s niece, certainly looks luxurious: It has a rooftop deck, floor-to-ceiling windows with Hudson River views, and a dishwasher (huge). In addition to the previously mentioned golf simulator and spa, their building also has a library, and all of those sound like great ways to decompress after three years of being derided by the press for your (actually hot) ponytail. Welcome to New York, Princess Mako!