Who was the princess supposed to marry, anyway?
October 26, 2021 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Recent news coverage of the marriage of Princess Mako of Japan states that she lost her royal status because "she married a commoner". But who could she marry who wasn't a commoner? From what I can tell, the Kazoku (Japanese Nobles) were abolished in 1947. I can't imagine she'd be expected to marry a member of the Imperial Household. But who else counts as "not a commoner" in Japan these days?
posted by Winnie the Proust to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think the issue is that women can't inherit the throne. I don't think men get kicked out of the royal family when they marry a commoner. Here's a story from 2004 about Princess Sayako:

After her wedding, the princess, unlike her older brothers, will have to leave the royal family and become a commoner, in keeping with the tradition of brides joining their husbands' households. Her children will have no rights of succession to the Japanese throne.

And from an NY Times story about Princess Mako:

Under the Imperial Household Law, which governs the succession of Japan’s emperors, women are not allowed to reign on the throne. The law also stipulates that Princess Mako must relinquish her royal title because she is marrying a commoner, and she will become a commoner herself. Any children she has will not be in line to the throne.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:13 PM on October 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Via Wikipedia: “ After the removal of 11 collateral branches from the Imperial House in October 1947, the official membership of the Imperial Family has effectively been limited to the male line descendants of the Emperor Taishō, excluding females who married outside the Imperial Family and their descendants.”
posted by warriorqueen at 6:20 PM on October 26, 2021

Best answer: Nine princesses have married commoners and left the royal line since 1947, for this very reason. Princesses are not in the line of succession, and staying in the royal family would mean marrying a cousin, uncle, or nephew.

This article from 2018 (the last time a princess married a commoner) goes into a little more detail into how attempts have been made to change the rules.
posted by muddgirl at 6:41 PM on October 26, 2021 [3 favorites]

I think the answer is that she was supposed to marry a commoner and lose her royal status, because that's how it's worked since 1947. Or not marry at all.

It's all hella misogynistic regardless of how you look at it, but the controlling law is really about ensuring that men can't marry their way in to the imperial household and the cash & prizes that come from it. (The exclusion of women from the throne was already baked into the cake.) That came to the fore with Princess Mako, where even though there was no question she'd lose her status, her now-spouse was portrayed as a gold-digger while the princess was receiving public funds. That extended to the parachute payment provided to women on their marriage that Mako chose not to accept.

(The women who married into the imperial household since 1947 have typically been the daughters of high-ranking politicians and industrialists, which is fairly Downton Abbey. But the sons of those high-status commoners don't get to be princes.)
posted by holgate at 9:44 PM on October 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I was puzzling over the public outrage over her choice too. My read was that they wanted her to marry someone wealthier, or someone famous. More generally it seems like there's a segment of the Japanese public that consider themselves to own the bodies of the women in the royal family, who would never be happy with any choice they made for themselves that showed a hint of individuality or personal volition. If Princess Mako wanted to marry at all, she was going to have to marry a commoner and be expelled from the royal family, as you say. But it sounds like the people up in arms over her choice are just mad she got any say in it at all.

Princess Mako's spouse seems pretty clearly to be a love match rather than some fancy politician's son her dad picked out for her, and like, perish the thought that this poor princess who will never get any institutional power might want to marry someone she cares about. I'm so starry eyed at this royal wedding.
posted by potrzebie at 10:51 PM on October 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

She was always going to marry a commoner and leave the royal family (if she married at all, there have been Japanese princesses who have remained unmarried). When this version rule was instituted under the American occupation, a lot of European monarchies had similarly restrictive practices - for example the Danish Royal family could only marry royalty or nobility if they wanted to remain in the line of succession. These have changed in most other places (including Denmark where the heir married an Australian commoner) but the Japanese court (specifically the Imperial Household Agency) is conservative and constitutional change is difficult.

My reading of Princess Mako's story is that her husband is too common. Or rather his family are not wealthy or part of the class of people who a Japanese princess might normally marry. Part of the bargain of royalty is that your people feel a sense of ownership over you and your family and their choices. This sometimes plays to individuals' benefit (particularly those in the main line of inheritance) and more often causes them problems. But it appears to be intrinsic - certainly all of the European and Asian royal families I know about have some element of this.

I note that the couple are planning to live in New York. They will be able to be relatively anonymous there particularly for day-to-day things. Mako will be transitioning from an incredibly sheltered life to one of significant freedom. I hope she enjoys the experience and is able to recover from the stress she has been put under by everything.
posted by plonkee at 2:04 AM on October 27, 2021 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all of these responses. I understand the sexism of the system. My specific question was why all the news coverage said she lost her title because she "married a commoner" as opposed to just saying she lost it "because she married".

Saying she lost her title because "she married a commoner" implies she could have married someone else and retained her title. It sounds like muddgirl got it, when she said that her only other choices would be to marry an uncle, nephew, or cousin, or else remain unmarried. That's more disgusting than I imagined possible, hence my confusion.

It turns out, though, she doesn't actually have any unmarried male relatives within the imperial house, except her younger brother.

I think the news coverage would be clearer if it said, "she lost her title because she married someone who was not a member of the imperial family", or "she lost her title because she married". Either of those would make it clear this is much more than a class issue.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:46 AM on October 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also worth noting, when a woman marries in Japan, she legally becomes part of the husband's family. I'm not aware of anything analogous in U.S. law. So in this sense, it's not surprising that Mako would lose her royal status.

It can go the other way, where the husband becomes part of the wife's family: the practice is called muko yoshi. It's unusual, although I imagine that if anything justified it, marrying a princess would. If not for the Imperial Household Law that muddgirl cited.
posted by adamrice at 8:24 AM on October 27, 2021

Just came in here to recommend Richard Lloyd Parry's article Akihito and the Sorrows of Japan, which is by far the most informative thing I've read about the Japanese royal family. The end of the piece touches on the succession crisis and how it was (narrowly, temporarily) averted in 2006:
Under the Imperial Household Law, only a male heir can succeed to the Chrysanthemum Throne. For generations, the imperial family has displayed a statistically unlikely tendency to give birth to daughters, or to sons who die in childhood. At the end of the 20th century, the last boy to have been born into the family was Akihito’s younger son, Akishino, in 1965. Both of his children, like Akihito’s other grandchildren, were girls. After him, succession fell to a line of increasingly elderly uncles and cousins. Following the crown prince’s marriage to Masako, six years passed with no sign of a baby. In 1999, she miscarried. Two years later, after fertility treatment, she became pregnant and gave birth to the couple’s first and only child, Princess Aiko.

After Aiko’s birth, the succession crisis could no longer be ignored. The momentum was building towards a change in the law that would have allowed her, and future imperial daughters, to succeed as reigning empress. But in 2006, Akishino’s wife conveniently gave birth to a son, Prince Hisahito. The crisis has been deferred for a generation. The future of the world’s oldest royal family now depends on one 13-year-old boy.
(Key takeaway: comparisons with the British royal family are misleading, because the Japanese system is very different and its cultural effects also play out very differently.)
posted by verstegan at 10:23 AM on October 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

verstegan: that "conveniently" brings to mind the warming-pan baby, and I can't imagine Lloyd Parry would have chosen that word, especially in the broader context of that piece, other than to insinuate something similar.
posted by holgate at 11:01 AM on October 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

It's also worth reading about Empress Masako. She was smart, beautiful and had a dazzling career in the foreign service, but Naruhito fell hard for her, and repeatedly sought her hand, all of which said good things about him — she seemed unusually bright!—but also effectively ruined her life. Like Mako, once they married, she had to abandon her family. Her story is a very sad one, really.
posted by Violet Blue at 3:00 PM on October 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

On top of what was already said about women marrying into the groom's families and the rules of the imperial family, some people just really thought that Kei Komuro wasn't good enough to marry a princess. They literally nitpicked his hairstyle on Twitter and the fact that he wore a pinstriped suit. There were some rumors about him owing money to someone, and something about his mother, and overall he seems to have gotten a bit of a Meghan Markle treatment.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 3:38 PM on October 28, 2021

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