Japan’s former princess Mako begins new life as ‘commoner’ in New York

Japanese former princess Mako Komuro has arrived in the United States with her husband, Kei Komuro, swapping ancient imperial rites for the bright lights of New York after leaving the royal family and relinquishing her royal title.

The pair tied the knot in Tokyo last month in muted fashion, following years of public attention over a minor financial scandal involving Kei Komuro’s mother, which Mako Komuro said caused her “sadness and pain”.

Footage broadcast on Japanese TV channels showed the couple flanked by security officials as they made their way through New York’s John F Kennedy airport and into a waiting vehicle.

A move to the US had long been rumoured. The two 30-year-olds finally boarded a commercial flight on Sunday from Tokyo to New York, where Kei Komuro attended law school and now works.

Mako, the niece of Emperor Naruhito, lost her royal title when she married a “commoner” under postwar succession laws that allow only male members of the imperial family to ascend to the throne.

In announcing their marriage, the former princess – a museum curator – made her choice clear. “He is someone I cannot do without,” she said. “Marriage is that decision needed for us to live on, staying true to our hearts.”

After the 2017 engagement, the Komuros were confronted with a barrage of reports alleging that Kei Komuro’s family had run into financial difficulties.

Japan’s royals are held to exacting standards, and the Imperial Household Agency said Mako Komuro developed complex post-traumatic stress disorder because of the media attention.

Then-princess Mako and Kei Komuro speak to the media in Tokyo in September to announce their engagement
Then-princess Mako and Kei Komuro speak to the media in Tokyo in September to announce their engagement. Photograph: Reuters

“I have been scared, feeling sadness and pain whenever one-sided rumours turn into groundless stories,” she said at a press conference after their marriage.

Her husband said he felt “very sad that Mako has been in a bad condition, mentally and physically”, declaring: “I love Mako. We only get one life, and I want us to spend it with the one we love.”

The controversy surrounding the pair, and their US move, has drawn inevitable comparisons to another royal couple: Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan.

Japanese media said the Komuros, who met while attending university in Tokyo a decade ago, have already secured a place to live in New York, though it was not clear where in the city they had chosen to set up their new life.

The original plan had been for Kei to travel to the US ahead of Mako, with the former princess joining him after she had received her first passport, reports said.

But Kei stayed in Japan longer than expected to attend the funeral of Mako’s grandfather.

Japan’s emperor holds no political power but is an important figurehead.

With a dwindling supply of male royals, there has been some debate over changing the rules in Japan, with polls showing the public broadly supported women being allowed to rule. But any change is likely to be slow, with traditionalists vehemently opposed.