Of Princesses and Ponytails: A Gendered Reading of the Media Storm over the Japanese “Royal Wedding”

The former Princess Mako (right) and her husband Komuro Kei (left)

The Australian media has had a right royal field day reporting on the recent marriage of Princess Mako of Japan to her college sweetheart, commoner Komuro Kei.

I found myself, rather surprisingly, tasked with explaining just why these nuptials had caused so much controversy among certain sectors of the Japanese public for a number of Australian media outlets, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Radio National, The Briefing, and Mamamia.

The broader controversy boiled down to a financial scandal and a concern over whether or not Komuro was worthy of marrying a member of the imperial family. Specifically, commentators were concerned about money which was lent to the Komuro family by a former suitor of Komuro Kei’s mother and whether he was motivated to marry Mako in order to lay his hands on the tax-payer funded grant awarded imperial women who relinquish their status when they marry a commoner.

My focus during these media engagements had less to do with the veracity of these claims (which have been partly denied by Komuro, who has expressed a strong willingness to settle the financial dispute), however, and more to do with gendered considerations.

In fact, the tabloid obsession with Mako and Komuro since the announcement of their engagement in 2017 speaks to ongoing concerns over the role of the imperial family in Japanese society as well as the heteropatriarchal values which sit within it. The royal wedding is thus the perfect case study to think about conceptualizations of gender in contemporary Japan.

If you are interested in a gendered reading of this so-called controversy, my discussion with Mamamia’s “The Quickie” podcast summarizes all my positions quite clearly. You can find a link below, including my reflections on Komuro’s notorious ponytail and on why imperial women in Japan face so much scrutiny over their romantic and sexual lives.

The Princess & The Commoner: How a Royal Wedding Divided Japan