Japan will keep the tradition in the royal household even if it means the end of the monarchy.
After a four-year engagement, Princess Mako, 61-year-old Emperor Naruhito’s niece, is marrying her longtime boyfriend, Kei Komuro. And because Japan’s imperial law deprived women of their royal status after marriage, the princess would drop out of the family leaving just 12 women and five men.
In addition, following a dispute over their engagement, Mako turned down a dowry of 152.5 million yen ($1.3 million), traditionally given to the women of the royal family who have married, to which she survived the Second World War. The latter became the first woman to do so.
“This is a radical departure from what is expected of women in the royal family,” said Shihoko Goto, deputy director of geoeconomics at the Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank and expert on Asian affairs. “She is ready to make financial sacrifices and extricate herself from the comfort, security and privileges of her life to follow her path.”
After World War II there were 67 members of the Imperial Family of Japan. As of Tuesday, there will be only 17, and only three heirs to the throne among them: the emperor’s 85-year-old uncle, Prince Masahito; his brother, Crown Prince Fumihito, age 55; and Hisahito, his nephew and brother of Princess Mako, age 15. Japan is one of a handful of modern monarchies that limit succession to men – among them Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Morocco.
Princess Mako’s marriage has spotlighted past calls to allow women to be part of the line of succession, shunning the world’s oldest, continuous, hereditary monarchy and making it more modern about gender equality. To bring ideas into line.
According to Kyodo News polls conducted in March and April, this is a highly popular idea. Of the respondents, 85% said they were in favor of a female monarch, and nearly 79% – said they would support the empress handing over the throne to her children.
The irony is that there is nothing the royal family can do about it. The role of the monarchy, including its line of succession, is governed by Japanese law. Over the past two decades, several top political officials have considered changing the rules, to no avail.
In 2006, a proposed law to allow female heirs to be in line to the throne was shelved after the birth of Prince Hisahito, the first male child in nearly four decades. In 2012, then-prime minister Yoshihiko Noda considered allowing the princesses to form their own royal branches and retain their status while married, an effort that stalled when she was replaced by Shinzo Abe.
Recently, ex-prime minister Yoshihide Suga launched an expert panel to look into the matter, an investigation that ended when he failed to win re-election. His successor, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, opposes passing the throne through an empress.
While the number of royals has declined, this year cost Japanese taxpayers 25 billion yen ($219 million) in food, education, personal expenses and the salaries of 1,080 employees, including drivers, gardeners and collectors of royal records. They also send money to disaster relief efforts. In comparison, the British royal family spent around £50 million ($69 million) in 2019-20, with an additional £30 million refurbishing Buckingham Palace.
On Tuesday Princess Mako and Komuro will present a marriage filing to the local government, which will be followed by a press conference. Goto said Japanese royal weddings rarely attract attention overseas, and Princess Mako’s low-key event misses an opportunity to present soft power. “This wedding will not have the kind of impact on consumer spending that Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle’s weddings did in the UK,” she said.
But it can boost the economy in other ways. Imperial marriages in Japan have been linked to an increase in marriages and births, a long-desired goal in a country with an aging population. According to an analysis by Bloomberg Economics, after the wedding of Crown Prince Fumihito in 1990, the number of marriages increased by 3.7% compared to five years earlier, compared to a 0.4% drop the year before. It reached 9.8% in 1993 when the current monarch was married.
The number of births follows a similar trend.
“We don’t expect Princess Mako’s wedding to have a major impact on the macro economy,” says Yuki Masujima, senior economist at Bloomberg Economics. “But it could have a positive impact on consumer sentiment and marriage rates after a sharp drop due to the Covid crisis.”
After the wedding, the newlyweds planned to immigrate to America, without financial support from the royal family or the Japanese government. Her fiancé reportedly secured a job with a Manhattan law firm, while Princess Mako — who has a master’s degree in art museum studies — has not announced her plans. This may prove to be a welcome respite after years of tabloid scrutiny.
Earlier this month, the Imperial Household Agency, the government office that oversees the royal family, said the princess had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of online abuse on the couple and their families. “She is facing a constant fear that her life is about to be destroyed, which makes her pessimistic and makes it difficult for her to feel happy,” the statement said.
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