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Japan's Princess Mako marries commoner, loses royal status
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Japan's Princess Mako marries commoner, loses royal status

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Japan's Princess Mako, the emperor's niece, married her commoner college sweetheart on Tuesday and left the royal family after a years-long engagement beset by scrutiny. Flora Bradley-Watson reports.

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Princess Mako quietly married a commoner without traditional wedding celebrations Tuesday and said their marriage — delayed three years and opposed by some — "was a necessary choice to live while cherishing our hearts."

The marriage to Kei Komuro cost Mako her royal status. She received her husband's surname — the first time she has had a family name. Most Japanese women must abandon their own family names upon marriage due to a law requiring only one surname per married couple.

The couple's marriage document was submitted by a palace official on Tuesday morning and made official, the Imperial Household Agency said. There was no wedding banquet or other marriage rituals for the couple. The agency has acknowledged that many people have not welcomed their marriage.

Keep scrolling for a gallery of photos from the marriage announcement

"For me, Kei-san is a priceless person. For us, our marriage was a necessary choice to live while cherishing our hearts," Mako said in a televised news conference, using an honorific in speaking of her husband.

Komuro responded: "I love Mako. I live only once and I want to spend it with someone I love." He said he hopes to be with Mako to share feelings and encourage each other in happy times and difficult times.

APTOPIX Japan Princess

Japan's former Princess Mako, right, the elder daughter of Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko, and her husband Kei Komuro, look at each other during a press conference to announce their marriage at a hotel in Tokyo, Japan Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. 

"I hope to have a warm family with Mako-san, and I will continue to do everything to support her," he said.

Mako earlier declined a 140 million yen ($1.23 million) payment to which she was entitled for leaving the imperial family, palace officials said. She is the first imperial family member since World War II to not receive the payment and chose to do so because of criticism of the marriage.

Mako, who turned 30 three days before the marriage, is a niece of Emperor Naruhito. She and Komuro, who were classmates at Tokyo's International Christian University, announced in September 2017 that they intended to marry the following year, but a financial dispute involving his mother surfaced two months later and the wedding was suspended.

On Tuesday morning, Mako left the palace wearing a pale blue dress and holding a bouquet. She bowed outside the residence to her parents, Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko, and her sister Kako, and then the sisters hugged each other.

The couple did not answer questions at the news conference as Mako had expressed unease about responding in person. Instead, they provided written answers to questions submitted by the media beforehand, including those about his mother's financial issues.

Mako is recovering from what palace doctors described earlier this month as a form of traumatic stress disorder that she developed after seeing negative media coverage about their marriage, especially attacks on Komuro.

"We have been horrified, scared and saddened ... as false information has been taken as fact and that unfounded stories have spread," Mako said in a written answer to one of the questions.

The dispute involves whether money his mother received from her former fiancé was a loan or a gift. Mako's father asked Komuro to clarify, and he wrote a statement defending himself, but it is still unclear if the dispute has been fully resolved.

Komuro, 30, left for New York in 2018 to study law and only returned to Japan last month. His hair was tied in a ponytail at the time and the look drew attention as a bold statement for someone marrying a princess in the tradition-bound imperial family and only added to the criticism.

The couple will move together to New York to start a new life.

Many in Tokyo wished them good luck.

"Congratulations," said office worker Yasuhiro Suzuki. "I hope people in America will welcome them."

Retiree Kenko Suzuki said he expects life in New York will be challenging because they will have to live without people taking care of them. "So I'm rooting for them," he said.

"There will be different kinds of difficulties as we start our new life, but we'll walk together as we have done so in the past," Mako said, thanking everyone who supported them.

Mako, apparently referring to mental health issues, noted "many people have difficulty and hurt feelings while trying to protect their hearts." She said, "I sincerely hope that our society will be a place where more people can live and protect their hearts with the help of warm help and support from others."

Mako is not the only female royal whose mental health was strained by attacks from inside and outside the palace.

Her grandmother, Empress Emerita Michiko, wife of former Emperor Akihito and the first commoner married to a monarch in modern history, collapsed and temporarily lost her voice in 1993 following persistent negative coverage.

Empress Masako, a Harvard-educated former diplomat, has had a stress-induced mental condition for nearly 20 years, in part because of criticism over not producing a male heir.

Some critics say Mako's marriage highlights the difficulties faced by women in the Japanese imperial household.

Mako's loss of royal status comes from the Imperial House Law, which allows only male succession.

Only male royals have household names, while female imperial family members have only titles and must leave if they marry commoners.

The male-only succession practice leaves only Akishino and his son, Prince Hisahito, in line to succeed Emperor Naruhito. A panel of government-appointed experts is discussing a more stable succession system, but conservatives still reject female succession and allowing women to head the imperial family.

Associated Press journalist Chisato Tanaka contributed to this report.

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