Japan’s Princess Mako Marries Commoner, Sparking Succession Debate

Princess Mako, the eldest granddaughter of Japanese Emperor Akihito, announced in a press conference that she would be leaving the imperial family to marry a commoner. Japanese station NHK reported that Princess Mako stated that she had received permission from her grandfather and that the engagement with Kei Komura, a paralegal who had met her five years ago as a fellow university classmate at International Christian University. Mako is currently a museum researcher with the University of Kyoto.

The two described their marriage as one done for love, with Mako describing Komura’s bright smile and expressing wishes for a calm, peaceful family. The relationship had been first unveiled in May, and the couple had planned to announce the engagement in early July but were delayed by major flooding which had hit western Japan that month.

The couple began dating in 2012, and were able to make the relationship work even when they went studying abroad in separate countries the next year. Bodyguards would watch the couple from a distance when they went on dates.

While the two have announced their engagement, they will have to go through several official ceremonies such as the Nosai no gi and the Kokki no gi. The wedding thus will almost certainly take place at some point in 2018.

Japane's Princess Mako weds [Image by Shizuo Kambayashi/AP Images]

But while Emperor Akihito may have blessed the marriage, this is sparking a new debate about the future of the Imperial household. As Mako is marrying a commoner, she will be required to leave the Imperial household and become an ordinary Japanese citizen. The Imperial dynasty, which has purportedly existed unbroken for 2,000 years, will have just 18 family members, and only five are male. Only men are permitted to become Emperors.

The debate over succession becomes more urgent as the 83-year-old Akihito is expected to abdicate the throne in late 2018 to his eldest son, 57-year old Naruhito. Akihitio has battled cancer and heart problems and will be the first emperor in 200 years to voluntarily give up the throne. Next in line is Naruhito’s younger brother, Akishino, who is 52, followed by Mako’s little brother, Hisahito, who will turn 11 next week.

Princess Mako marries college roommate [Image by Zoltan Mathe/AP Images]

The need for new blood has prompted some officials to discuss the need to revise the Imperial House Law in order to account for the lack of male heirs. According to Japan Times, Japanese professor Isao Tokoro proposed revising the law so that women will stay within the imperial family upon marrying a commoner, while other ideas include adding branches of the imperial family that were cast aside after World War II or even allowing women to succeed to the throne.

But conservatives in Japan are opposed to the idea of a woman becoming emperor, and many of the proposed reforms have been shut down either by the Imperial House or the Japanese diet. But while Japanese authorities figure out how to ensure the continuation of the imperial bloodline, Mako and Komura will prepare to wed and complete a fairy tale romance of sorts.

[Featured Image by Shizuo Kambayashi/AP Images]