In a revealing interview, Meghan Markle said persistent racism and attacks by British tabloids drove her to the edge of suicide, and ultimately prompted her and husband Prince Harry’s royal exit.
In Japan, home to the world’s oldest monarchy, many have reacted to the duchess’s misery with sympathy. “I can’t believe she felt like ending her life. Shame on those tabloids,” Yuna Suzuki, a nutritionist in her 30s, told VICE World News. Eri Kaneyama, a retired teacher, said, “She must have felt so trapped by that system. It’s good she married someone supportive like Harry.”
But as these Japanese applaud Meghan’s courage for escaping from the royal family and carving out an independent life with her husband, their princess at home has been receiving a starkly different treatment.
Princess Mako, a niece of Japanese Emperor Naruhito, has been engaged to her college boyfriend Kei Komuro since 2017. The two met at Tokyo’s International Christian University in 2012 and see each other as “irreplaceable.”
Yet their unwavering commitment to love is not enough to convince the Japanese public to endorse the union.
Originally scheduled for Nov. 2018, Princess Mako and Komuro’s wedding was postponed to 2020 after Japanese tabloids raised doubts about the Komuro family’s financial health—his mother was said to owe her former fiancé some 4 million yen ($36,000). But the COVID-19 pandemic has derailed that plan and it’s unclear when, if ever, the wedding will take place.
A recent poll suggests that a majority of people believe Mako should find a more suitable husband. In November, Mako’s father, Crown Prince Akishino, said he approved of the marriage but acknowledged that there was public opposition to it.
Naokata Kimizuka, a professor of European politics at Kanto Gakuin University, told VICE World News that Princess Mako was wasting her time “fooling around” with Komuro. Hiroshi Ogawa, a retired car mechanic, said “Princess Mako’s marriage won’t happen. She has duties to uphold… Komuro isn’t suitable.”
Japan remains conflicted about the role of the imperial family, which goes back over 2,600 years, as well as how much romantic freedom Princess Mako should be granted.
Though Princess Mako has made clear she wishes to marry for love, the public has criticized her for not thinking enough about public service, in much the same way that Meghan was condemned for her lack of commitment to the British monarchy, or as the American actress put it, “the firm.”
“Can you imagine how little sense that makes? I wrote letters to his family saying I was dedicated. There was no guidance for me, no class on how to speak, how to cross your legs, and how to be royal. No one thought to remember that I was American and might not know these things but I underwent training behind the scenes myself because I wanted to make them proud,” Meghan said in the interview with talk show host Oprah Winfrey, aired Sunday in the United States.
Harsh public eye has prevented both women from leading independent lives. But for Princess Mako, a law stemming from a centuries-old tradition outright bars her from ever marrying outside the royal family unless she gives up keep her title.
But as Japanese royal family numbers decrease, many eligible royal suitors are too genetically close for marriage. Female royals are therefore increasingly marrying commoners, although they would lose their royal status under the 1947 Imperial House Law.
This means that if Mako marries Komuro, a student at Fordham Law School in New York, she will become a commoner herself and be cut off from the imperial family. She will be banned from performing public tasks and lose all royal rights and privileges.
This same law does not force princes out, and also only allows for patrilineal descendants to take the throne.
While a majority of the Japanese public isn’t enthusiastic about Mako marrying Komuro, there’s overwhelming support for a change in the law to allow empresses, according to surveys.
The support is well-timed, since there are only three potential heirs left: Emperor Naruhito’s brother Fumihito, his nephew Hisahito, and Masahito, the octogenarian brother of the current emperor.
According to Professor Kimizuka, the Japanese monarchy is unsustainable if the government does not change the law on male succession. “It’s time we abolished this outdated law. Otherwise, the royal family will become extinct,” he said.