For the first time since Japanese ex-Princess Mako married a commoner, Crown Prince Akishino has spoken openly about his eldest daughter’s union, in remarks that reveal the struggles of the world’s oldest continuous monarchy to shake criticism surrounding Mako’s marriage.
At a press conference on Thursday, Akishino for the first time spoke at length about the wedding of her 30-year-old daughter, now Mako Komuro, and the backlash she had received since her engagement with Kei Komuro, a U.S.-educated law school graduate. A video of the event, held at his Akasaka Estate imperial residence in Tokyo, was released on Tuesday to mark his 56th birthday.
The crown prince defended his daughter’s decision to marry Kei, which stripped her of royal status, in the process affirming the right of Imperial Family members to seek a life of their own outside the exacting demands of royal traditions.
“Even if she did prioritize her marriage, which I think is a separate issue as it’s a private matter to begin with, she’s already made her intentions publicly known for four years,” he said, referring to her engagement in 2017. “If the public were given priority, then she wouldn’t be able to marry for 10 or 20 years,” referring to how it’d be nearly impossible for a princess to please the entire public with whomever she chose to marry.
With no social media and little independence, Japan’s royals often keep their opinions private, even when they come under criticism.
Akishino had publicly endorsed, albeit less explicitly, his daughter’s marriage before her wedding in October, but little was known about how the 56-year-old father felt in the final months leading up to Mako’s move to the United States late last month. The prince’s firm support of his daughter’s decisions further refuted rumors that Mako went against her family’s wishes in marrying her college sweetheart.
Since announcing their engagement in 2017, Mako and her now husband Kei Komuro were followed by intense media coverage, focused on a financial dispute between Komuro’s mother and her ex-fiancé. The resulting public backlash led to a postponement of their wedding. The ex-princess said she even developed PTSD from such harsh scrutiny, for which her father said both Japan’s weekly tabloids and cyberbullying were to blame.
“Why one chooses to write harmful things on the internet depends on the person, but many people are deeply hurt as a result of such slander—some who have even completed suicide because of it,” he said.
“For me, slanderous words, words that deeply hurt people—whether they are in magazines or on the internet—are unacceptable,” he said.
Though Akishino expressed support for his daughter’s mental health, he acknowledged media concerns over the circumstances of the marriages. He said he wished there was more open dialogue during the press conference the couple held on the day of their marriage on Oct. 26, in which Mako only answered five previously approved questions from the press.
“Up until the last minute Mako had wanted the news conference to be a two-way one, but it was difficult due to her PTSD,” he said.
“But as for her husband, I had told him it was important that he explain the background surrounding their marriage, which he did in a letter he released back in the spring. But I think it would have been better if he had the opportunity to talk about it and answer questions,” the crown prince added.
Japanese tabloids reported Kei’s mother had received $36,000 from her former fiancé and failed to repay him, reports that cast into doubt Kei’s intention to marry Mako. Kei repaid the former fiancé earlier in November.
The crown prince said he supported the couple’s move to New York. “Since they have decided to live in the U.S., I think it's the best thing for them,” he said.
He said he wished his daughter well on her wedding day, but the thunderous noise from overhead helicopters drowned his words out when he sent her off from their palace.
“She also said something, but that morning ended with neither one of us being able to hear a word,” he said.
Though his eldest daughter now lives on the other side of the world, Akishino said he was glad technology could make them feel closer.
“She used to be by my side, but in this age, we can feel close wherever we are in the world,” the crown prince said.
Mako’s exit from the imperial family reduced the size of the household to 17, which has further shrunk to 16 following the Nov. 4 death of Tatsuhiko Kawashima, the father of Crown Princess Kiko.
Akishino, the younger brother of Emperor Naruhito, and his 15-year-old son Hisahito are the only two possible male successors to the Chrysanthemum Throne.