Japanese Princess Ayako has announced she will renounce her royal status and marry a commoner, raising speculation about the future of Japan’s imperial family.
Princess Ayako is the third daughter of Prince Takamodo, cousin of the Emperor Akihito, who has ruled Japan for more than 60 years.
The 27-year-old is set to marry Kei Moriya, a 32-year-old employee of shipping firm NYK Line she met less than a year ago.
She was introduced to Kei Moriya by her mother, who knew his father from her outreach work. Princess Ayako has a Masters in social work and Kei Moriya is a board member of a local non-profit organisation, so her mother hoped to inspire the princess to complete global welfare activities with the meeting.
Under Japanese imperial law, the princess will be forced to leave the family once she exchanges vows with Kei Moriya – but she will receive a bonus payment, expected to be around $1 million.
She is not the first princess with plans to leave the royal family due to love; two years ago, her older cousin and eldest grandchild to the Emperor, Princess Mako, announced plans to marry paralegal Kei Komoro.
The couple postponed their marriage in February 2017, stating that they were not yet ready for the union and needed more time to prepare.
Although Princess Ayako is not a direct descendant of Emperor Akihito, who plans to abdicate in 2019, her engagement is raising questions over the future of the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy.
If both princesses marry commoners, the number of imperial family members will drop to 17, increasing the burden of royal duties on the remaining members.
Before Prince Hisahito, Princess Mako’s younger brother, was born in 2006, a male heir had not been born into the royal family for 40 years, sparking calls to introduce legislation to allow women to ascend the throne – but the prince’s arrival put an end to that discussion.
But when Emperor Akihito’s intention to abdicate was approved by parliament in 2017, the country began to worry again. A resolution to the Emperor’s abdication bill called for the government to begin discussing succession issues, including the option of princesses establishing new branches of the family after they marry a commoner.
Under Japanese imperial law, a female member of the royal family may not marry a commoner without having to renounce her position, but the same rule does not apply to men. In fact, Emperor Akihito’s wife, Shōda Michiko, was a commoner, the daughter of a wealthy businessman.
While the future of the royal family is unclear, it’s certain that the new generation of royals are marrying for love rather than duty!