Emperor Akihito’s granddaughter’s upcoming engagement to her college sweetheart, a commoner, will cost the princess her royal status in a move that highlights the male-dominated nature of Japan’s monarchy as it faces a potential succession crisis.
Public broadcaster NHK broke the story of Princess Mako’s engagement on Tuesday, sending the country into a tizzy with the news dominating television chat shows and newspaper coverage, ahead of an expected official announcement in coming weeks.
Her reported fiancé, Kei Komuro, 25, briefly met journalists on Wednesday, but dodged questions on the engagement, saying he would only speak about it when the time comes.
The national rejoicing, however, has been tempered by concerns over the future of the royal family as the country prepares for its first imperial abdication in two centuries amid an acute shortage of male heirs.
Mako, 25, is the eldest daughter of Prince Akishino, Akihito’s second son, and like all female imperial family members, loses her royal status upon marriage to a commoner under a controversial law.
Akihito’s only daughter, Princess Sayako, also left the palace in 2005 when she married city planner Yoshiki Kuroda.
The law does not apply to male royals, with Akihito and both his sons marrying commoners, who are now part of the monarchy.
The news of the engagement has intensified a debate on whether the law should be changed so women born into the imperial family can continue in their royal roles.
Traditionalists, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, strenuously oppose such changes, even though Japan has occasionally been ruled by female sovereigns in past centuries.
The only male under the age of 30 is Mako’s 10-year-old brother, Hisahito.