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.