How Kei Komuro's controversial romance with Princess Mako proved solid

EXCLUSIVE: How a Japanese commoner practicing law in New York won and kept the heart of Princess Mako despite the disdain of Imperial Palace, claims of being a gold digger and his ‘scandalous’ appearance in ponytail and pinstripe suit

  • Japan’s Princess Mako, 30, will be stripped of her royal title after tying the knot with commoner boyfriend Kei Komuro in Tokyo on Tuesday 
  • The wedding had sharply divided public opinion in Japan and took place without typical royal pomp or ceremony  
  • The princess, the older sister of Japan’s future emperor, asked the public to support their marriage, claiming negative media coverage caused her PTSD 
  • Komuro, also 30, left Japan for New York after their wedding was postponed in 2018, going on to study law at Fordham University in the Bronx
  • He then landed a job at Lowenstein Sandler in Manhattan, counseling companies and investors on venture capital financings, mergers and acquisitions
  • Komuro, who met Princess Mako at the International Christian University outside Tokyo in 2013, was raised by his widowed mother, Kayo
  • He finally returned to his home country to prepare for the wedding in September, but drew criticism over his ‘disrespectful’ ponytail haircut  
  • Mako will now join her husband in New York where she’ll have a last name for the first time in her life and will also have to apply for a passport 
  • Even if the marriage ends in divorce she can never return to the family and can no longer live in the Imperial Palace

He is seen as a threat to Japan’s Chrysanthemum Throne, but Kei Komuro just wants to be a loving husband to his vulnerable bride.

The man whose Tuesday marriage to Princess Mako, the older sister of the country’s likely future emperor, has led to nationwide protests, admits his new wife’s mental health is ‘not good,’ but he wants to take care of her.

‘I love Mako. We only get one life, and I want us to spend it with the one we love,’ he told the country during a televised press conference in Tokyo.

Now the newlywed couple are heading to freewheeling New York to make a new life half the globe away from the stiff and formal royal palace where Mako grew up. 

Princess Mako of Akishino, 30, the eldest daughter of Crown Prince Fumihito and niece of reigning Emperor Naruhito, tied the knot with university sweetheart Kei Komuro, a commoner, in Tokyo on Tuesday after an eight-year engagement. They have been engaged since 2013 and were due to marry three years ago, but the wedding was delayed following a financial scandal involving his mother

Princess Mako (left) gave up her royal title in order to marry her commoner boyfriend (right) in a ceremony stripped of all pomp and glamour in Tokyo Tuesday

Polls show that up to 80 per cent of Japanese oppose the marriage that took place with none of the usual pomp and ceremony in a register office in Tokyo. 

Komuro was raised by his widowed mother, Kayo. His father died when he was still in elementary school. His jobs in Japan included working in a bank and a French restaurant.

He met Mako in 2013 when they were both studying at the International Christian University outside Tokyo. 

His proposal propelled him to the front page of Japanese newspapers – his only previous claim to fame had come from being named Prince of the Sea to lead a tourism campaign in the coastal town of Fujisawa.

The couple, both now 30, got ‘unofficially engaged’ in 2017, and planned to tie the knot in November 2018.

Initially the news was greeted with delight in Japan, but then a scandal grew up when it was discovered that Kayo had not repaid a 4million yen ($35,000) loan from a former fiancé, partly to pay her son’s tuition. 

Komuro pictured during his childhood. The 30-year-old left Japan for New York in 2017 to study law 

Komuro was raised by his widowed mother, Kayo. His father died when he was still in elementary school. He is pictured above age nine with his late dad 

His only previous claim to fame had come from being named Prince of the Sea to lead a tourism campaign in the coastal town of Fujisawa. He is pictured wearing the Prince of the Sea sash in 2010

That led critics to suggest Komuro was only marrying the princess for money or fame.

Komuro issued a 24-page explanation about the money – claiming it was a gift not a loan. That made him even more unpopular.

Eventually he said he would repay it, although it is not known whether the money has been returned.

In an online poll just five per cent of respondents in Japan said they would congratulate the couple or celebrate, with an overwhelming 91 per cent saying they wouldn’t.

But despite the turmoil Kei and Mako’s love endured. Last year the now ex-princess begged the Japanese public to support her decision. 

‘We are irreplaceable to each other – someone to rely on during both happy and unhappy times,’ she said, announcing the wedding would go ahead.

‘So a marriage is a necessary choice for us to live while cherishing and protecting our feelings.’

Komuro (pictured above in Yokohama in 2017) and Princess Mako, both now 30, got ‘unofficially engaged’ in 2017, four years after they met at university

Komuro is pictured at an amusement park with friends in 2009.  Prior to moving to New York, he worked in a bank and at a French restaurant in Japan

News of the couple’s engagement was initially greeted with delight in Japan, until it emerged that his mother was 4million yen ($35,000) in debt. Pictured: Komuro in 2012

On Tuesday, her words were nearly identical. ‘For me, Kei is irreplaceable,’ she said. ‘Marriage was a necessary choice for us.’

In prepared remarks, she also said: ‘I acknowledge that there are various opinions about our marriage. I feel very sorry for the people to whom we gave trouble.

‘I’m grateful for the people who have been quietly concerned about us, or those who continued supporting us without being confused by baseless information.’

She said incorrect reporting on her new husband had caused her ‘great fear, stress and sadness.’

‘The flow of arbitrary criticism of Kei’s actions, as well as one-sided speculation that ignored my feelings, made falsehoods somehow seem like reality and turn into an unprovoked story that spread,’ she added.

Komuro has not lived in Japan for three years. 

Soon after the marriage was postponed, he moved to New York, studying law at Fordham University in the Bronx and then landing a job clerking at Lowenstein Sandler in Manhattan, counseling companies and investors on venture capital financings, mergers and acquisitions.

Komuro has not lived in Japan for three years and only returned in September to prepare for his wedding ceremony. But his trip home only drew more negative publicity after he arrived at Narita Airport sporting a ponytail, a hairstyle that is deemed disrespectful 

He was also criticized for wearing a pin-striped suit when visiting his future in-laws in 2017 (left). He wore pinstripes again during his marriage ceremony (pictured) on Tuesday

He had become so disillusioned with his homeland that he didn’t return once to see his fiancée until going back in September to prepare for his wedding.

And his trip inevitably brought more bad publicity. Conservatives were shocked that he arrived at Narita Airport sporting a ponytail – which he cut off before getting married.

They deemed his hairstyle ‘disrespectful’ and piled on the scorn when they noted that he visited his future in-laws wearing a pin-striped suit rather than one in a solid color. He got married in pinstripes as well.

He was also criticized for his body language – his foes say he keeps his hands in his pockets too much.

But despite the negative feeling towards Komuro, the Japan Times called him ‘a polite and upstanding man.’

On the day of his marriage, he was announced as winner of the New York State Bar Association’s annual student writing competition for a piece on ‘compliance problems in website accessibility and implications for entrepreneurs.’

His prize was a check for $2,000, which won’t go far toward the $1.35million Mako agreed to give up under pressure from an unsympathetic Japanese public. That amount has been paid to the two princesses who have previously left the royal family.

High profile: Princess Mako of Japan, right, donned a traditional Jūnihitoe as she took part in a procession through Tokyo’s Imperial Palace to mark her uncle’s formal ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 2019

Princess Mako of Akishin is seen left before her graduation ceremony at the International Christian University on March 26, 2014 in Mitaka, Tokyo, where she met her husband. The marriage means she will be stripped of her royal title and will not be able to return to the family even if the union ends in divorce

Only male members of the Japanese imperial family are allowed to marry ‘commoners, so Mako’s decision to marry for love means a whole slew of new things for her.

For a start, she is no longer considered a princess – even if the marriage ends in divorce she can never return to the family.

For the first time in her life she has a surname and will be known just as Mako Komuro. 

She will also have to apply for a passport – royals don’t need them – so she can move Stateside.

She can no longer live in the Imperial Palace. And any sons the couple have will not be in the line of succession for the male-only emperorship.

And that is a potential problem in Japan where there are now only three people allowed by the Imperial Household Law to succeed 61-year-old Emperor Naruhito – and one of those, his uncle Masohito, is 85. 

At the press conference, the couple read out prepared statements in which they apologized for any distress their marriage has caused – but defended their decision to go ahead with the ceremony

There were also no official portraits, like these ones taken of then-Crown Prince Prince Naruhito and his wife Crown Princess Masako with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko after their wedding at the Imperial Palace June 9, 1993 in Tokyo

The other two are Nauruhito’s 55-year-old brother Akishino – Mako’s father – and Mako’s brother Hisahito, 15.

The couple blame the negative publicity focused on Mako for the decline in her health. 

The Imperial Household Agency said earlier this year that she is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the public pressure.

And that could only have been made worst by the protestors who gathered in a Tokyo park holding signs opposing the marriage.

The commoner who wooed a princess: How Kei Komuro overcame scandal to wed Mako 

Komuro was raised by a single mother, with some media reports saying part of his education was funded by his mother’s former fiancé.

At one point, he earned some money by working for tourism promotion near Tokyo.

Trouble erupted a few months after he and Mako announced their engagement in 2017, when tabloids reported a financial dispute between Komuro’s mother and her former fiance, with the man claiming mother and son had failed to repay a debt of about $35,000.

Komuro later said the money had been a gift, not a loan. But in 2021, he submitted a 24-page explanation and later reportedly said he would pay a settlement.

In September 2018, he left for studies at New York’s Fordham University and didn’t return until September this year, after having graduated from law school and started working at a New York law firm. He took the bar exam in July, with results due in December.

When he returned to Japan, he was dressed casually and sporting long hair drawn back in a ponytail, setting off a media frenzy because it was deemed ‘disrespectful’.

But on Tuesday morning, ponytail shorn and dressed in a crisp dark suit and tie, he left to claim his bride. Most of his face was covered with a mask in line with Japan’s coronavirus protocol, but he looked happy.

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