Japan’s Princess Mako Is Now Commoner Mako, But There’s No Escaping the Limelight in New York

Over two weeks since the former Japanese princess left for New York, Mako has been followed wherever she goes, eats, and shops.
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Though she's now moved to New York, ex-princess Mako still finds herself under the spotlight. Photo: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

Wearing a forest green coat, former Japanese Princess Mako shopped at the home goods retailer Bed, Bath and Beyond. She put hangers and paper towels in her cart, strolling through the store without being shadowed by bodyguards. When she was done, she wandered New York City’s streets carrying the things she bought, appearing lost in her new home.

This was tantalizing stuff—at least to those watching Mako’s life unfold as a civilian in the U.S. since she lost her royal status by marrying her commoner boyfriend in October.

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“It’s the first time in Japanese history that something like this has happened,” said Ryushi Kanno, a Japanese-American who lives in New Jersey, referring to Mako’s move to the United States last month after she tied the knot with Kei Komuro, who studied law at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York.

Mako, 30, was not the first princess to give up her royal title, but she is the first to seek a life overseas. Ex-Princess Sayako, the only daughter of former Emperor Akihito, similarly left the royal family when she married a private citizen in 2005. But unlike Mako, she remained in Japan and now serves as the supreme priestess of Ise Shrine, the Shinto religion’s holiest shrine. Former Princess Ayako, now Ayako Moriya after her marriage in 2018 to a commoner, also stayed in Japan and has remained close to the royal family over the years. 

Now, 6,700 miles away from Tokyo, the mundane details of Komuros’ new life are closely monitored, with an intensity comparable to what they faced at home when Japanese tabloids hounded the couple for years after they announced their engagement in 2017.

Mako said she developed PTSD from the relentless scrutiny, and her father, Crown Prince Akishino, last week criticized “slanderous” reports on his daughter in unusually blunt comments from a member of Japan’s Imperial family.

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Kei Komuro wearing his Darth Vader t-shirt. Photo: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

But unlike Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, who stepped back from the British royal family earlier this year but maintained a high profile after moving to California, the Komuros seem intent on living a life away from the spotlight.

Kei Komuro had failed his first bar exam in November, and is seeking to retake the exam in February so he can practice as a lawyer. 

Mako will reportedly work at an art institution in the city—she was previously an affiliate researcher at the University of Tokyo’s museum for over five years. She turned down a $1.4 million cash handout traditionally given to women who leave the Japanese royal family, funds meant to ensure even ex-members of the monarchy don’t fall into destitution.

Once eager to escape the mean coverage in Japan, Mako now finds herself a person of interest all the same, except that she now has a career to pursue and no royal institutions to back her.

The path to independence has been precarious from the start. When the Komuros landed in John F. Kennedy Airport on Nov. 14, Japanese media focused on the couple’s clothing.

Attention was drawn to Kei Komuro’s T-shirt, which bore a printed image of Darth Vader, the villainous character from the popular franchise Star Wars. Conspiracies abound that the 30-year-old felt some sort of affinity to the character, when he was later spotted in New York wearing a pair of slip-on sneakers with Darth Vader on them.  

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Japanese news commentators wondered if his choice of shirt was Komuro’s way of saying, “I’m going to be a villain now.” A psychiatrist analyzed whether the 30-year-old’s Darth Vader shirt was him being sarcastic. His fashion sense was also described as “too lame.” 

Some pointed to Mako leaving her long black hair down and wearing dark jeans as the ex-princess’ move to look more casual. When Mako was spotted walking happily with her husband in New York, there were reports detailing where she purchased her coat.

While this might be standard fare for celebrity gossip sites, even some of the Komuros’ followers felt it was too much.

Kanno likened the press’ constant following of the couple to “stalking.” 

Ami Nakamura, a 22-year-old fan of the Komuros who’s been following the couple since their engagement, has already begun worrying for them.

She said the ex-princess should have taken the one-time payment of $1.4 million. “They’ve never worked and I think it’s part of her duty to live well, as a former member of the royal family,” she told VICE World News. 

The couple has not given any media interviews since their arrival in New York, and does not have any known public social media presence. 

But privacy has already proved elusive. 

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When the couple moved, media reported that they rented a one-bedroom apartment in midtown Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, digs decked out with a rooftop lounge, fitness center, in-house movie theater, spa, and a golf simulator. A one-bedroom in their building goes for at least $4,300 a month.

Cameras incessantly document when the Komuros step outside their apartment. Kei Komuro was captured smiling while dining out with a group of friends at a bar. Photos of the couple on a walk were also released, captioned with, “they’re looking in the same direction,” and “Mako’s leaning closer toward him.”

The couple isn’t letting the presence of paparazzi prevent them from living their lives, and the two have already been seen going out with their friends and sauntering through the streets of their adopted city, glancing only every so often at the uninvited cameras.

Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.