Princess Mako, a niece of Japanese Emperor Naruhito, and her boyfriend Kei Komuro will marry by the year-end and may start a new life in the United States, but in a rare decision will not hold the usual related ritual ceremonies, a government source said Wednesday.
Amid public unease about their marriage due to a money dispute between Komuro's mother and her former fiance, the princess will likely decline a lump-sum payment of up to about 150 million yen ($1.36 million) usually given to female royal family members upon their departure from the household, the source said.
Under the current rules, female imperial family members lose their royal status upon marrying a commoner.
The marriage of the princess and Komuro, both 29, has been postponed for over two years due to the dispute over 4 million yen that the former fiance claims the mother owes him. The sum includes money spent on Komuro's educational expenses.
If the princess marries Komuro without traditional ceremonies, she would be the first female imperial family member to skip them in postwar Japan.
The rites are an official engagement ceremony called "Nosai no Gi," in which the families of the betrothed exchange gifts, and a "Choken no Gi" ceremony to officially meet with the emperor and empress before marriage.
The government will consider whether it is legally possible under current rules not to offer the lump-sum payment, which would be financed by taxpayers' money, in accordance with the princess's unprecedented request, according to an Imperial Household Agency official.
The money is intended to maintain the dignity of former royal family members. The agency is also planning to create an opportunity for Princess Mako and Komuro to explain their resolve to the public, the official said.
Komuro currently lives in the United States, having graduated from Fordham University's law school in New York State with a Juris Doctor degree in May and taken the state bar examination in July. The result of the exam will be announced by mid-December and he is expected to land a job at a local law firm.
People expressed mixed reactions to the news that the marriage between Princess Mako and Komuro will go ahead after a hiatus, suggesting the pair has failed to get as much public support as the princess's father Crown Prince Fumihito wished for.
"Princess Mako's feelings should be respected," said Yuko Chiba, 52, who was jogging around the Imperial Palace, a popular spot for joggers. But she added, "I want to hear Mr. Komuro explain (the money dispute) in public."
Rena Aoki, a 20-year-old university student, also said near the Imperial Palace, "Even though (Princess Mako) was born as a royal, she is a human being. I think it was suffocating to see much criticism (about her planned marriage with Komuro) online. I hope she will live her own life and be happy."
Meanwhile, university student Mayuri Goi, 19, said, "Maybe they should have announced their engagement after having established a basis for their livelihoods."
Last year, Crown Prince Fumihito, the emperor's younger brother, said he approves of his eldest daughter's marriage to Komuro but suggested it has to be welcomed by a more skeptical public.
"I mean, I approve of them getting married. The Constitution says marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes. If that is what they really want, then I think that is something I need to respect as a parent," the crown prince said last November at a press conference to mark his 55th birthday.
In April, Komuro issued a statement seeking to correct what he called misunderstandings among the public about his mother's financial status and said his wish to marry the princess has not changed.
Princess Mako, who said last November the marriage is a "necessary choice" for the couple, indicated her hope that the statement to address the monetary dispute would help gain more public understanding of his stance.
Shortly after releasing the statement, Komuro offered to make a payment to his mother's former fiance in an effort to settle the money dispute.
The former fiance also expressed his desire to enter negotiations, saying the planned marriage and the dispute were separate issues. But there has been no progress in efforts to settle the case since then.
The couple's marriage may influence Japan's ongoing debate to address the shrinking number of imperial family members as the government is considering allowing female members to retain their royal status even after marrying commoners.
Princess Mako's brother Prince Hisahito, 14, who is second in line to the Japanese imperial throne, is the only heir of his generation as the Imperial House Law states that only males with male lineal descent from emperors can ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne.
Of the current 18 imperial family members, including former Emperor Akihito, 87, and former Empress Michiko, 86, who no longer perform official duties, 13 are women. Six of the women, including Princess Mako, are currently unmarried.
Komuro and Princess Mako met in 2012 as students at International Christian University in Tokyo. They were unofficially engaged in September 2017.
Komuro, who previously worked at a Tokyo law firm as a paralegal, started studying at the New York law school in August 2018 after his planned marriage with the princess was abruptly delayed following reports of the financial dispute.
The following is a chronology of major events related to the planned marriage between Princess Mako and her commoner boyfriend Kei Komuro.
Sept. 3, 2017 -- Imperial Household Agency announces Princess Mako's planned engagement to Kei Komuro.
Feb. 6, 2018 -- Imperial Household Agency announces wedding will be postponed following reports of a money dispute between Komuro's mother and her former fiance.
Aug. 7 -- Komuro leaves for the United States to study at Fordham University's law school in New York.
November -- Prince Fumihito, father of Princess Mako, says Komuro's family should resolve financial issues for wedding to go ahead.
Jan. 22, 2019 -- Komuro says in a statement his family believes financial issues behind dispute have already been resolved.
Nov. 13, 2020 -- Princess Mako says in a statement she and Komuro think marriage is a "necessary choice" for them.
November -- Crown Prince Fumihito says he "approves" of marriage, but reiterates dispute should be solved.
April 8, 2021 -- Komuro releases another statement, expressing his resolve to tie knot with Princess Mako.
April 12 -- Komuro expresses his intention to pay money to his mother's former fiance to settle dispute.
May -- Komuro graduates from Fordham University's law school in New York with a Juris Doctor degree.
July -- Komuro takes the New York state bar examination.