By Junko Ogura and Nectar Gan, CNN
Japan’s Princess Mako has married her non-royal college sweetheart Kei Komuro in a subdued ceremony, formally marking her departure from the royal family.
The couple submitted their registration at the local ward office around 10 a.m. local time Tuesday, according to the Imperial Household Agency, forgoing the usual pomp and circumstance of most royal weddings.
Mako, who turned 30 over the weekend, announced her engagement with Komuro four years ago. But their union has been plagued by years of controversy, public disapproval and tabloid frenzy over a money scandal involving Komuro’s mother.
In an effort to appease a disapproving public, Mako turned down a one-off million-dollar payout from the government, which she was entitled to as a departing royal.
At a press event in the afternoon, Mako appeared alongside her husband in front of a selected group of journalists. The newlyweds apologized for any trouble caused by their marriage and expressed gratitude to those who supported them.
“To me, Kei is a very important, indispensable existence,” Mako said, wearing a pastel dress and pearls.
“Up till today, there were only limited opportunities for me to express my feelings, and there were some misunderstandings because of that,” she said. “There was truly unilateral speculation. I felt fear about such spread, and I felt saddened as well.”
Komuro said “misinformation” was spread in the last four years as if it were true, but he thanked people who had helped them during difficult circumstances.
“I love Miss Mako. This is a life lived only once, and I would like to spend my life with the person I love in happiness,” he said. “Mako and I would like to build a warm, nice family. At the same time, I would like to do the best I can to support Mako. Happy times, unhappy times, we would like to be together, and we will be indispensable to each other.”
The newlyweds are expected to move to New York City, where Komuro works at a law firm.
As the emperor’s niece, Mako wasn’t in line to the throne — Japan’s male-only succession law prevents that from happening. And under Japanese law, female members of the royal household must give up their titles and leave the palace if they marry a commoner.
Mako, who will no longer be known as princess, isn’t the first woman to leave the Japanese royal family. The last royal to do so was her aunt, Sayako, the only daughter of Emperor Akihito, when she married town planner Yoshiki Kuroda in 2005.
The couple had planned to marry in 2018, but their wedding was pushed back. The Imperial household said the delay was due to a “lack of preparation,” but others suspect it was due to reports Komuro’s mother failed to pay back $36,000 she borrowed from her former fiancé.
Komuro disputed the account, even releasing a 28-page statement earlier this year, stating his mother believed the money was a gift and that he would pay to settle the dispute. But tabloid gossip had already spiraled to dissect every aspect of his family and his life.
Some Japanese don’t consider the commoner son of a single parent to be worthy of a princess; some media reports even painted him as an untrustworthy gold-digger.
The years of speculation and slurs have taken their toll on Mako. Earlier this month, the palace disclosed that she suffers from complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The princess “feels pessimistic and finds it difficult to feel happy due to the persistent fear of her life being destroyed,” Princess Mako’s psychiatrist, Tsuyoshi Akiyama, director of NTT Medical Center Tokyo, told media at the Imperial Household Agency.
Komuro left Japan for law school in New York in 2018, and only returned in September for the wedding. He arrived in Japan sporting long hair tied in a ponytail, which set off a media frenzy.
Tabloids ran photos of 30-year-old Komuro’s ponytail from every angle, with some comparing it to a samurai’s top knot. On social media, some tweeted support for his new look, while others said it was unsuitable for the groom of a royal bride. Komuro cut off his ponytail ahead of Tuesday’s wedding.
A quiet life after royal exit
Mako and Komuro’s retreat from the royal spotlight is being compared to another famous couple — Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.
Markle’s engagement to Britain’s Prince Harry sparked controversy when it was first announced in November 2017. Some believed a biracial, divorced American actress had no place within the British royal family.
Over time, the British tabloids’ coverage of the couple became so toxic that Harry issued a statement in November 2016, condemning the “wave of harassment” Meghan had to endure. Eventually, the couple jumped ship, leaving the British royal family in January 2020.
But while Mako’s “dramatic” exit from the royal family is somewhat comparable to “Megxit” — the term for the British couple’s departure — the similarities end there, said Ken Ruoff, director of the Center for Japanese Studies at Portland State University.
“British royal family members grow up among great wealth. And they also spend a lot of time directly raising money for very various charitable causes, so know how it works. So when Harry and Meghan went to the United States, by telling various stories about the royal family, they managed to make millions and millions of dollars, all the while draping themselves in feel-good, left-wing causes,” Ruoff said.
“I would predict there’s almost no way that Mako and her future husband are going to behave like that after they get married. In fact, I think what’s going to happen is they’re just going to disappear.”
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CNN’s Emiko Jozuka and Selina Wang contributed.