The Ponytail that Sent Japanese Media into a Frenzy

Irene Chun ('23)

Finally, after four years of engagement, Princess Mako –   the eldest daughter of Crown Prince Fumihito and Princess Kiko – has married Kei Komuro. As of October 26th, she is officially named Mako Komuro after renouncing her royal status. 

From Japanese TV crews following Kei’s personal life in New York, to giving severe criticism on his new hairstyle, this remains to be one of the most discussed subjects in Japanese news coverage today.

The Not-so Fairytale Marriage of Princess Mako

The two became acquainted with each other while attending International Christian University in 2012. 

They announced their engagement in a press conference during September of 2017 and were planning their perfect wedding. At the conference, the Princess famously stated that Kei’s smile was “as bright as the sunlight,” while he expressed that she “watches over me as quietly as the moon.” 

However, things took a turn in February 2018 when a financial scandal concerning Kei’s family was revealed: Kei’s mother owed her former fiancé around 4 million yen, which was allegedly borrowed to cover Kei’s university tuition fees. 

The wedding was then delayed to 2018, as his mother’s relationship with her ex-fiancé still remained unresolved.

As the media coverage died down, Kei travelled to New York to attend Fordham Law School. Both Kei and the Imperial Household had stayed silent on this issue until April this year, when Kei published a 28 page document, denying the allegations that he had used the money from the former partner to pay for his tuition fees at ICU. It was the first written statement from Kei in two years, and yet the document of such length had no mention of any apology, thus exacerbating the confusion of the public and media.

The Debate Over the Marriage

This leads us to around a month ago when the Imperial Household Agency confirmed that the pair would marry by the end of October.

However, the media frenzy had ramped up yet again. 

One issue was that she would be the first female of the Imperial Household to have an ‘unconventional’ wedding – despite the traditional ceremonies that had been held through generations in the Imperial Household, Mako has turned this down. She is also planning to refuse the payment of 15.2 million yen usually given to all females of the Imperial Household upon marrying a commoner. 

At this point, Mako and Kei planned on moving to New York after getting married. Therefore, there was a growing concern of how security would be ensured if Mako turns down the money. Although she is no longer a part of the Imperial family, Japan may ask the US government to provide security – payments which will most likely come from Japanese taxpayers. This is another complication, being that taxpayers’ money is at stake, and that the public has the right to know where their money is going to be spent – especially as they may expect it to be invested into mitigating issues caused by the COVID-19 crisis. 

Most tabloids seem to be against the idea of this marriage – they state that the public is not happy with how this event has come to be and that Kei needs to be more apologetic concerning the whole affair.                                                                                                        

Bungei Shunju, a Japanese monthly magazine, declared the wedding to be “the biggest crisis to strike the Imperial Family in 100 years,” and some even hold the belief that this scandal is an embarrassing occurrence to Japan’s national family.

The Ponytail that Drove the Media into a Panic

話題】小室圭さん、ロン毛姿に激変。長髪を後ろに結ぶ“侍スタイル” 記者ガン無視でポケットに手 | ニュースまとめ速報

With all these new speculations rising, the media covers even the most mundane aspects of Kei – last month, the headline of Nikkan Sports stated, “Kei Komuro comes back with a ponytail.” This flooded several tabloids, variety shows, and social media platforms with images, while debates arose on whether the hairstyle reflected the delicate image of the Imperial House; some tabloids have defended Kei’s hairstyle, stating that the media response reflects the conservative nature of Japanese society, and that it is very “Japan-like” to panic simply over a ponytail. The severe criticism over how Kei chooses his hairstyle possibly mirrors the anti-diverse stance that is deeply rooted in the minds of the Japanese public, and reveals the nature of toxic masculinity in the country with social stigma around overly feminine men. 

And yet to further fuel the discourse regarding the affair, the Imperial Household Agency announced on October 1st that Mako was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), due to facing years of public slander against her and her future husband. According to Psychiatrist Tsuyoshi Akiyama, Mako struggled to deal with the public slander written in the media, and felt that her dignity as a human being was being trampled upon. He explains that “People suffering from complex PTSD can feel worthless or have negative feelings,” as a result of long-term abuse.

Further Problems Arise

The registration of their marriage on October 26th was followed by a press conference, held on the same day. Although people may have expected some form of further disclosure on certain matters such as their future plans, they only gave opening remarks and distributed five written answers to questions submitted prior to the conference. 

Even on the day of their marriage, some still refused to agree on the matter. Shortly before the conference, a number of 130 people had gathered in a national park and proceeded to do a silent protest, holding posters with various messages that read “NO KOMURO” or “Stop this farce press conference”(translated). This was not the first time people had held a protest, but in fact their 12th time since September 12th. 

A mere three days after their marriage, the results for the New York bar exam were released – Kei’s name was nowhere mentioned in the list of applicants who had passed. A journalist of the Imperial family stated, “If Kei had passed the bar examination, he would have most likely earned an income of 20 million yen annually. But with his current situation being an assistant at a law firm, his annual income is estimated to be around 6 million yen. To add on, he would have to study hard for the next February examination, which will make it increasingly difficult to balance his work and studying...The two have already secured a high-end mansion as their home, which is estimated to be around 800,000 yen a month. New York has relatively high costs of living in general, so it may be challenging for Mako to maintain a ‘dignified’ standard of living.”(translated)

Is this True Closure?

On the 13th of November, it was also announced that Kei finally settled the money dispute between his mother and her ex-fiancé, who accepted 4 million yen to put the debt issue to rest. 

The public remains divided on the marriage; some ponder whether Mako really loves him, or question if it is an act of freedom to break away from the boundaries of the Imperial family. 

Some even say that the media’s response to their relationship indicates the pressure women in Japan’s Imperial family often face. Mako is not the only woman who has experienced issues concerning health due to the media. Her grandmother, former Empress Michiko, had lost her voice temporarily after receiving criticism of being ‘unfit’ for the position of the emperor’s wife. After receiving blame for failing to give birth to a mail heir, Mako’s aunt-in-law was diagnosed with depression. 

Kei’s famous favorite quote of “Let it Be” mentioned at a press conference nearly 4 years ago has been interpreted in several ways by the media and the public – but it may have been a subtle innuendo on this affair concerning the Imperial household. 

*this article was written prior to their flight to New York

Bibliography

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10. Shimbun, Sankei. "Kei Komuro On Princess Mako: ‘She Watches Over Me As Quietly As The Moon’". JAPAN Forward, 2017, https://japan-forward.com/kei-komuro-on-princess-mako-she-watches-over-me-as-quietly-as-the-moon/.
 
11. Forward, JAPAN. "Q&A With Princess Mako And Kei Komuro: A Life And A Future Together". JAPAN Forward, 2017, https://japan-forward.com/qa-with-princess-mako-and-kei-komuro-a-life-and-a-future-together/.
 
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14. "Japan's Princess Mako Finally Marries Commoner Boyfriend Kei Komuro". BBC News, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-59046476. Accessed 13 Nov 2021.

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