'Irreplaceable existence': Japan's former princess Mako declares love for husband, looks forward to new life together

Mr Kei Komuro and Japan's former princess Mako announcing their marriage registration at a press conference at Grand Arc Hotel in Tokyo on Oct 26, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Kei Komuro and Japan's former princess Mako bow after a press conference at Grand Arc Hotel in Tokyo on Oct 26, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Princess Mako and Mr Kei Komuro leaving for their wedding on Oct 26, 2021. PHOTOS: REUTERS, EPA-EFE
Princess Mako bowing as she leaves Akasaka Estate in Tokyo on Oct 26, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
People waiting to see Princess Mako leave the Akasaka Estate in Tokyo on Oct 26, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO - Former Japanese princess Mako sees her husband Kei Komuro, whom she finally married on Tuesday (Oct 26) in a union that was put off by three years, as an "irreplaceable existence" in her life.

Mr Komuro, meanwhile, sees her as "a loved one with whom to spend the rest of my life", the couple said at a news conference at a hotel in Tokyo, in their first appearance as husband and wife.

The nuptials mean the eldest niece of Emperor Naruhito has shed her title to become known as Mrs Mako Komuro, leaving the imperial family as per Japanese law that states that princesses will lose their royal status and become commoners when they marry a non-royal.

Mr and Mrs Komuro, both 30, are optimistic for a future together where they are able to support each other through thick and thin, by each other's side.

"Marriage was a necessary choice for us, to continue living our lives while cherishing our feelings for each other," Mrs Komuro said, adding that she was "relieved" to finally be able to get married.

But she remains unwell and subject to panic attacks, she revealed.

She has been diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder over the slander and vitriol against the couple. Mr Komuro, whose birth father died when he was young, is shouldering a financial dispute between his mother and her former fiance over four million yen (S$47,000).

As a result, the marriage on Tuesday was a low-key administrative affair. The couple did not even personally register their marriage to avoid the media glare - an Imperial Household Agency (IHA) staff member submitted the papers on behalf of the couple, as all traditional marriage rituals were scrapped.

While the matrimony was generally well-received, with congratulatory messages pouring in online and their union trending on Twitter, the newlyweds also drew online brickbats and accusations of "marriage fraud" and "naivity".

Mr Kei Komuro and former princess Mako at a press conference at the Grand Arc Hotel in Tokyo on Oct 26, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

A poll by the Yomiuri newspaper earlier this month showed more than half of the public in favour of the marriage, with 33 per cent against. On Tuesday, at least one protest broke out, with demonstrators in Tokyo accusing Mr Komuro of "crimes".

"It was very painful and sad for me every time Kei was subject to criticism or unilateral speculation that he was ignoring my feelings," the former princess said on Tuesday. "It was incredibly scary how even when unprovoked, false information can be taken up and spread as if it were true."

People protest against the marriage of Japan's former princess Mako and Mr Kei Komuro in Tokyo on Oct 26, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

Denouncing fake news

Mrs Komuro's inner struggles came to the fore when, on Tuesday, she pointed to how some media outlets have reported falsehoods over their relationship as fact.

This resulted in a last-minute decision by the IHA on Monday night to scrap the question-and-answer segment of the news conference, with seven pages of written responses to five pre-submitted questions given to the press.

"Some of these questions give the impression that the falsehoods are true," the couple wrote. "We have been horrified, scared and saddened by the fact that false information has been taken as fact and that unfounded stories have spread."

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In his opening remarks, Mr Komuro apologised to the public for the "inconvenience" that has arisen due to the financial dispute. He added that it was his sincere wish to resolve the issue.

His mother, he said, has fallen ill due to the stress to the point of having to quit her job, and has been advised by her doctor not to meet her former fiance even if it was to iron things out.

Mrs Komuro also said that she has "had limited opportunities to speak publicly until now", which could have resulted in misunderstandings.

She noted that talks over the financial dispute have progressed based on her suggestions, while Mr Komuro had also gone ahead with his legal studies in New York's Fordham University in 2018 - at the height of the dispute - on her encouragement.

The couple also slammed insinuations that Mr Komuro received preferential treatment in his admission to the prestigious university, saying that there is "not a single shred of truth".

"We are starting a new life together. There will be obstacles in different forms going forward but as a couple, we will overcome these obstacles with our combined strength," Mrs Komuro said. "I sincerely hope that society will become one where people can live with empathy and thoughtfulness."

Leaving the nest

The former princess' parents, Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko, said in a statement that the couple's resolve to get married "has never wavered" through the years, even after their planned wedding on Nov 4, 2018, was scrapped.

Mrs Komuro's younger sister, Princess Kako, said she has been pained to see the slander that the couple have been suffering, but is delighted that her sister was finally able to get married.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Komuro left his home in Yokohama at about 8.30am, bowing to waiting reporters before making his way to the press conference venue.

Mr Kei Komuro (centre) leaving his house in Yokohama on Oct 26, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
Princess Mako hugs her sister Princess Kako as they are watched by Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko in Akasaka Estate in Tokyo on Oct 26, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

His wife, meanwhile, left her residence at the Akasaka Palace at around 10am. She was seen off by her parents and Princess Kako, with whom she exchanged a tight embrace.

Her brother, Prince Hisahito, 15, reportedly could not see her off because he was at school, and had said his farewells earlier in the morning.

While all the usual pomp and pageantry have been done away with, Mrs Komuro spent her last days as princess meeting privately with Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, as well as with Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko.

She said on Tuesday that she will fondly treasure her experiences and memories as princess: "It's hard to describe how important these encounters are to me."

Princess Mako walking towards the Three Palace Sanctuaries at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo to pray on Oct 19, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

How they met

The couple first met in 2012, when they were college schoolmates at the International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo.

They kept their relationship under wraps by dating discreetly, until Mr Komuro first asked for Mako's hand in 2017.

The couple had at the time gained overwhelming support for their union, with Mr Komuro charming the public through positive reports as an earnest young man who liked to cook, ski and play the violin.

The IHA had at the time described Mr Komuro as a "truly respectable person who is a suitable marriage partner for Princess Mako".

Princess Mako and Mr Kei Komuro announcing their engagement at the Akasaka East Residence in Tokyo on Sept 3, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

But public support quickly turned sour that same year after reports surfaced that Mr Komuro's mother was in financial trouble with her former fiance over an alleged sum of four million yen that was given around 2010.

The family said this was a gift that the former fiance is now trying to claw back after the relationship went south around 2012.

The scandal, which the IHA has stayed away from commenting about on the basis that it was a "private matter", hoarded column inches with Mr Komuro's character impugned and Mako psychologically wounded.

The ugly dispute has played out through tabloid reports for the past three years. Mr Komuro rebutted the former fiance in a 28-page statement in April that was full of legal jargon, only for the ex-fiance to say this month that the financial issue was far from resolved.

The negative headlines have also seemingly made a villain out of Mr Komuro despite what on paper are solid credentials of a man whose father died when he was young and had worked his way through school, overcoming the odds to become a promising lawyer.

Mr Komuro left Japan for New York in 2018, at the height of the financial scandal, to enrol in Fordham University law school. He would not see his fiancee until Sept 27 this year, when he returned to Japan to prepare for the wedding.

This May, he graduated with a juris doctor degree while he may be called to the New York Bar within weeks. Separately, last week, the New York State Bar Association announced that Mr Komuro had won a thesis competition for his essay titled Compliance Problems In Website Accessibility And Implications For Entrepreneurs.

He confessed that it had been difficult being apart from Mako for three years: "I am very grateful that Mako has, all this time, continued to have the same feelings as I do."

Mr Komuro at Narita airport in Chiba, Japan, on Sept 27, 2021, when he returned to prepare for the wedding. He further set tongues wagging with his long hair tied back into a ponytail, which has since been lopped off for the big day. PHOTO: AFP

Mr Komuro had set tongues wagging with his long hair tied back into a ponytail on his return, though he has since lopped this off for the big day.

While Mako's parents seem to have come around, their union was initially met with unease.

Her father, Crown Prince Akishino, said he supports the union "if this is truly what they want" on the basis of the Japanese Constitution that is based on "mutual consent" of the couple, even as he is apprehensive of how it is being seen by the public.

Her mother, Crown Princess Kiko, admitted last month: "As a parent, I have been talking to Mako to understand her standpoint. While there are areas where I empathise with her and other areas where we hold opposite views, I have expressed what is necessary with the wish of also respecting her feelings."

The couple's relocation to New York will present their best chance to forge a new life away from the public eye.

(From left) Crown Prince Akishino, Crown Princess Kiko and Princess Mako waving to well-wishers gathered at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Jan 2, 2019. PHOTO: AFP
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The former princess, who has turned down a 152.5 million yen lump sum payout in taxpayers' money for females who leave the imperial family, on Tuesday moved out of the Akasaka Palace into a private condominium in Tokyo's Shibuya ward, where she will live with Mr Komuro.

She will first have to settle paperwork associated with a commoner, including the setting up of a family registry with Mr Komuro that is a prerequisite for the application of a passport.

The couple will then relocate to New York, where Mr Komuro has found work at a law firm, by the end of next month. Mr Komuro is expected to draw US$205,000 (S$276,000) in his first year at the law firm, which specialises in corporate legal affairs.

While the couple declined to answer questions about their future on Tuesday, saying that it was their "private matter", Mrs Komuro said: "I hope that I can build a warm family in an environment where I can spend my time calmly."

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