Ja­panese princess swops ti­tle for love

Ja­panese Princess Ayako Takamodo has given up her ti­tle to marry com­moner Kei Moriya


THE bride wore an ex­quis­ite pale yel­low ki­mono em­broi­dered with in­tri­cate flow­ers and leaves, her hair swept back in the ex­trav­a­gant os­uber­akashi style of Ja­panese no­ble­women. She walked slowly and grace­fully along­side her groom into the shrine, ev­ery inch an im­pe­rial princess. And when she emerged she was a mar­ried woman – but a princess no longer.

Ja­pan’s Princess Ayako (28) had known what was at stake if she were to wed her com­moner sweet­heart, Kei Moriya (32): she’d have to give up her ti­tle, her al­lowance and her place in the royal fam­ily.

But true love is of­ten more valu­able and al­lur­ing than all the riches and priv­i­lege royal life can bring – and in the end it won hands down.

The cou­ple tied the knot in an in­ti­mate, rit­ual-filled cer­e­mony at the sa­cred shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo, which is ded­i­cated to the spirit of the bride’s great­grand­fa­ther, Em­peror Meiji.

Hun­dreds of well-wish­ers gath­ered out­side and ju­bi­lant shouts of “ban­zai” – the Ja­panese equiv­a­lent of “hooray” – rang out as the cou­ple said their vows.

As part of the cer­e­mony, at­tended by about 30 loved ones, Ayako and Kei sipped cups of sake (rice wine) in a bind­ing rit­ual called san san kudo and pre­sented a sa­cred Ta­m­a­gushi branch as an of­fer­ing to the gods.

Ayako is the youngest child of Princess Hisako and the late Prince Nori­hito Takamodo, cousin of Em­peror Ak­i­hito, and, ac­cord­ing to Ja­panese im­pe­rial law, she for­feits her sta­tus by mar­ry­ing a com­moner – a rule that doesn’t ap­ply to male mem­bers of the royal fam­ily.

But Ayako beamed as she and Kei, dap­per in a smart black morn­ing suit and grey pin­stripe trousers, spoke to re­porters af­ter the in­ti­mate cer­e­mony.

“I’m filled with hap­pi­ness,” she said, hav­ing changed into a more for­mal bril­liant red silk kouch­iki or “small cloak”.

“My fa­ther would’ve re­joiced at my mar­riage,” she said of Prince Nori­hito, who died sud­denly of heart fail­ure in 2002, adding that the top hat her hus­band was hold­ing had once be­longed to him.

An equally smit­ten Kei, who works for ship­ping com­pany Nip­pon Yusen, promised to help his bride ad­just to life as a com­moner.

“I want us to work to­gether, hand in hand, to cre­ate a fam­ily filled with smiles.”

THE wed­ding may have meant Ayako was stripped of all things royal, but the raven-haired beauty was still given the full re­gal treat­ment for her spe­cial day.

The cer­e­mony was fol­lowed by a lav­ish ban­quet, for which the bride and groom wore more West­ern-style at­tire: a debonair black tux and bow tie for Kei, and a soft pink gown em­bel­lished with lit­tle white satin flow­ers for his wife.

De­spite her new com­moner sta­tus, atop Ayako’s gleam­ing hair was a sparkling tiara.

The new­ly­weds stole happy glances at each other as they chat­ted and laughed with their guests – in­clud­ing Crown Prince Naruhito and Ja­panese prime min­is­ter Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie – and sipped bub­bly.

‘I’m filled with hap­pi­ness. My fa­ther would’ve re­joiced at my mar­riage’

“I was over­whelmed when I saw the bride and groom to­gether as I re­mem­bered past times with the princess,” one of Ayako’s school­friends, Hanako Takeda, said af­ter the glit­ter­ing af­fair.

“I want her to cre­ate a bright fam­ily that can make ev­ery­one smile.”

Ya­suyuki Goto, a friend of the groom, said Kei looked “cool – as he usu­ally does. I hope they’ll make a won­der­ful cou­ple.”

The pair hadn’t been to­gether all that long when Kei popped the ques­tion in July.

They met in De­cem­ber 2017 through Ayako’s mother, who knew Kei’s par­ents. Princess Hisako met the hand­some Keio Univer­sity grad­u­ate in Novem­ber at a char­ity photo ex­hi­bi­tion to raise funds for chil­dren in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. Ac­cord­ing to The Ja­pan Times, Princess Hisako hoped to get Ayako, a so­cial work re­search fel­low, in­volved in Kei’s char­ity Kokkyo Naki Kodomo­tachi (Chil­dren with­out Borders) – but their con­nec­tion went deeper than a shared in­ter­est in phi­lan­thropy. “It didn’t feel as though we’d met for the first time,” Ayako re­called when she and Kei an­nounced their be­trothal in July. “I re­mem­ber that our con­ver­sa­tion got so lively that it didn’t feel as if we’d just met and that I had so much fun that I for­got about time.” Kei, look­ing a lit­tle un­sure of him­self amid all the pomp and cer­e­mony, said he’d been drawn to Ayako’s gen­tle spirit. “And I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.” De­spite the fact that it meant her daugh­ter would no longer be a royal, Princess Hisako – who has two other daugh­ters, Princess Tsuguko (32) and Noriko Senge (30) – had no ob­jec­tion to the match. Her sec­ond el­dest, Noriko, also sur­ren­dered her sta­tus when she wed a shrine priest, Ku­ni­maro Senge, in 2014. In a state­ment re­leased af­ter Kei and Ayako’s happy day, Hisako said she’d raised Ayako to “pre­pare for the day when she sup­ports her­self ” and hopes the cou­ple “will build a good fam­ily full of joy and hap­pi­ness”.

AYAKO gave up plenty of royal perks for the man she loves, but don’t feel too sorry for her – the royal fam­ily cer­tainly haven’t left her high and dry. Ac­cord­ing to Ja­panese me­dia, the for­mer princess will re­ceive a lump sum pay­ment of a tidy R13,5 mil­lion in or­der to main­tain her high stan­dard of liv­ing even af­ter she loses her royal sta­tus.

Ayako’s de­par­ture leaves the Ja­panese royal fam­ily with just 18 mem­bers, most of whom are fe­male – and there­fore un­able to in­herit the crown.

Ayako’s cousin, Princess Mako (27), the em­peror’s el­dest grand­child, will also re­nounce her royal sta­tus when she mar­ries para­le­gal Kei Ko­muro (25) in 2020.

In an­other break with tra­di­tion, ail­ing Em­peror Ak­i­hito (84) will ab­di­cate in April next year, leav­ing Crown Prince Naruhito (58) to as­cend to the Chrysan­the­mum Throne. Naruhito has only one son, Prince Hisahito (12), who – thanks to Ja­pan’s no-women-al­lowed suc­ces­sion laws – will be solely re­spon­si­ble for con­tin­u­ing the royal line.

There’s huge pub­lic sup­port in Ja­pan for re­view­ing the monar­chy’s stuffy old im­pe­rial laws, ac­cord­ing to Jeff Kingston, di­rec­tor of Asian Stud­ies at Tem­ple Univer­sity Ja­pan. “It’s a sen­si­ble op­tion and nec­es­sary in terms of man­ag­ing risk but the elite con­ser­va­tives who gov­ern have re­sisted strongly de­spite ro­bust pub­lic sup­port for fe­male suc­ces­sion,” he told CNN.

“Ap­par­ently they take no in­spi­ra­tion from Queen El­iz­a­beth and in­stead take refuge be­hind fatu­ous pa­tri­ar­chal jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for not do­ing so. The law will change only if it ab­so­lutely must.”

ABOVE: Princess Ayako wore a beau­ti­ful pale yel­low ki­mono as she was whisked off to Meiji Shrine for the Shinto cer­e­mony. RIGHT: The bride and groom greet the crowds out­side the shrine. LEFT: Kei and Ayako – who’d changed into her sec­ond out­fit of the day, a for­mal bril­liant red robe – af­ter the cer­e­mony. BE­LOW: In a tux and ball­gown for the lav­ish re­cep­tion.

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