The Suitor With the Shaggy Hair


On Tuesday, Emperor Akihito of Japan will step down within the first abdication of the Chrysanthemum Throne in 200 years. Within the first 4 episodes of this sequence, the world’s oldest monarchy survived defeat in struggle, a firebomb, a precarious courtship and the failure of Akihito’s son Naruhito to supply an inheritor. The household’s story continues right here.

The final time the paparazzi acquired a very good have a look at Kei Komuro, he was arriving at regulation faculty in New York a yr in the past for the beginning of the autumn semester, swinging a delicate briefcase and looking out fashionable in an off-white blazer, khakis and brown brogues.

Then, a couple of weeks in the past, a magazine revealed a photograph of Mr. Komuro off campus in an untucked shirt in want of ironing and a pair of Crocs. His hair had grown shaggy, and he was ordering a day snack at a falafel cart.

The pundits on tv in Tokyo questioned: Had he been so busy learning that he didn’t have time for a haircut? Was he having a late lunch to save cash?

The query truly on their minds — on most everybody’s in Japan, actually — was extra pointed: Is that this man ok for Princess Mako, the eldest granddaughter of Emperor Akihito?

The imperial household has by no means suffered from lack of drama. In current many years, although, it has escaped the sort of scandals which have broken monarchies elsewhere. There have been no extramarital affairs, no divorces, no influence-peddling or playing outrages.

Quite the opposite, the Japanese royals have come throughout as studious, empathetic and nearly unnaturally nicely behaved. However how will the Chrysanthemum Throne climate the period of TMZ and Instagram?

Two years in the past, Princess Mako launched Mr. Komuro, 27, to reporters in Tokyo as the person she supposed to marry.

They’d been courting since faculty. She mentioned his smile was as shiny because the solar. He mentioned she watched over him as quietly because the moon. They added that Akihito himself had given them his blessing, and the general public swooned.

The tabloids, although, put him beneath a magnifying glass. Lower than a yr later, they reported that Mr. Komuro’s mom, a widow, had borrowed four million yen, or about $36,000, from an ex-boyfriend and by no means paid it again.

The story had nothing to do along with her son, who was then working as a paralegal, however in a society the place household background carries nice weight, it fueled suspicion that he was courting the princess for standing and cash.

Public opinion turned in opposition to him. Weeks later, the palace introduced it was laying aside a proper ceremony to mark the engagement. “I want to consider marriage extra deeply and concretely,” Princess Mako, 27, mentioned.

Mr. Komuro then decamped to Fordham Legislation College, prompting hypothesis that the palace had pressured him to go away or that he had manipulated the state of affairs to achieve admission to the college, on scholarship no much less.

Mako’s father, the emperor’s youthful son, Prince Akishino, advised reporters he couldn’t bless the connection till his potential son-in-law “solved the issues which have surfaced.” (By no means thoughts that after upon a time, Akishino himself had defied the palace to marry earlier than his older brother.)

Mr. Komuro defined that the $36,000 had been a present and apologized for “inflicting anxiousness.” His lawyer — sure, he has retained counsel — mentioned in a current interview that his consumer’s emotions for the princess had not modified. But he declined to say whether or not the 2 have been nonetheless speaking.

“Usually, any engaged will talk,” he mentioned. “It could be unusual in the event that they didn’t.”

A era earlier, the tabloids had obsessed over whether or not Crown Prince Naruhito — the subsequent emperor — would discover his Cinderella. Now, they have been near toppling a potential royal suitor. Each tales have been reminders of the monarchy’s fragile existence: If Naruhito didn’t marry, he wouldn’t produce an inheritor. Even when Princess Mako married, she wouldn’t be allowed to.

Actually, she must give up her title and depart the imperial household. That could be a requirement of all royal daughters beneath the regulation that excludes girls from the road of succession. Princess Nori, the emperor’s daughter, for instance, turned plain Sayako Kuroda when she married 14 years in the past.

This implies the royal household has a number of phantom branches, all minimize off from the throne. One results in Akifumi Kikuchi, 34, who writes promoting copy by day and performs spoken-word poetry by night time. He’s the son of certainly one of Emperor Akihito’s cousins, a princess who misplaced her title when she married the scion of a fantastic teahouse.

Mr. Kikuchi says it doesn’t a lot hassle him to be unnoticed of the road of succession, although he allowed that in a foreign country, “I might be within the prime 100.” As for Princess Mako, whom he has met solely briefly at weddings and funerals, he mentioned he hoped she would be capable of “pursue what she desires.”

That can be the place of Emperor Akihito, now 85, and his spouse, Empress Michiko. They issued a press release final yr saying they’d not specific a direct opinion of the engagement however believed everybody ought to “look ahead to Princess Mako to make her personal selections.”

One week in July 2016, the emperor hosted teas for the ambassadors of Bulgaria, the Netherlands, South Africa and Thailand.

He was briefed on a marketing campaign for athletes with disabilities. He attended the opening of a museum exhibit and a number of other concert events, together with a fund-raiser to assist youngsters with most cancers.

A survivor of prostate most cancers himself, in addition to coronary heart surgical procedure, Akihito additionally had two medical exams. Then he and Empress Michiko repaired to a trip villa on the coast.

Whereas they have been out of city, Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, interrupted its programming one night with a bulletin. Citing nameless sources, it mentioned the emperor needed to abdicate and retire.

This was gorgeous information. No emperor had abdicated in additional than 200 years, a transfer that will require motion by Parliament.

A month later, Akihito addressed the nation on tv.

“After I contemplate that my health stage is regularly declining,” he mentioned, “I’m nervous that it might turn into tough for me to hold out my duties because the image of the state with my complete being as I’ve completed till now.”

Over the many years, Akihito had quietly remade the monarchy right into a bulwark in opposition to the return of militarism in Japan. In doing so, he acknowledged truths that some Japanese politicians would slightly deny or neglect.

Now, maybe for the final time, gingerly and with public opinion on his aspect, as traditional, Akihito was pushing the politicians once more.

The conservatives in energy hesitated. They nervous about opening the door to a different push to let girls ascend to the throne. So it took almost three years to get thus far:

On Tuesday afternoon, the 125th emperor of Japan — whose father introduced the nation to the brink of destruction but refused to abdicate — will himself voluntarily give up the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Then, the person whose English instructor as soon as referred to as him Jimmy will settle for an uncommon new title: Emperor Emeritus.

Hisako Ueno and Makiko Inoue contributed reporting.

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