Princess Mako, the first grandchild of Japanese Emperor Akihito and the elder daughter of Prince Akishino, will soon become engaged to a former fellow university student who now works at a law firm in Tokyo, the Imperial Household Agency said Tuesday.
The 25-year-old princess will become engaged to Kei Komuro, 25, who also attends Hitotsubashi University's graduate school and lives in Yokohama near Tokyo with his mother and grandfather, the agency said. He served as a "Prince of the Sea" to promote tourism to the Shonan beach in Kanagawa Prefecture in 2010.
It will be the first engagement among the four grandchildren of the emperor and Empress Michiko. The princess's envisioned marriage underscores the urgent need to address issues stemming from the shrinking size of Japan's imperial family as princesses, who cannot become reigning empresses under Japanese law, will lose the imperial status when they marry commoners.
After her marriage, the number of imperial family members is expected to fall to 18, and her brother, 10-year-old Prince Hisahito, is the only male among the youngest generation of the royal family.
At a hastily arranged press conference after the news was first reported by public broadcaster NHK, agency chief Shinichiro Yamamoto said the agency was planning to make an announcement of their engagement at the "right timing" after taking necessary steps, and that it was regrettable that it was reported before then.
But he added, with a smile, "I will feel truly delighted once it is made official."
In a profile filed with a tourism promotion association in Fujisawa, Kanagawa, when he served as a "Prince of the Sea," Komuro listed his dream as "engaging in diplomacy," and playing violin, skiing and cooking as his hobbies.
"He was a fine, cheerful young man who has an amicable personality," said Hiromi Arai, an official of the tourism promotion association, who was involved in the selection of him as a tourism promoting ambassador.
The last marriage of a Japanese princess took place in October 2014 when Princess Noriko, the 28-year-old daughter of Emperor Akihito's late cousin Prince Takamado, tied the knot with Kunimaro Senge, the eldest son of the chief priest of Izumo Taisha, a Shinto shrine in Shimane Prefecture.
Princess Mako and Komuro were in the same class year at International Christian University in Tokyo and met about five years ago through a university friend. They soon hit it off and Komuro made the marriage proposal about a year later, according to an agency source. Prince Akishino and his wife Princess Kiko have approved of them, and the emperor and empress are also aware of their marriage engagement, agency officials said.
The news comes just days before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is expected to finalize a bill for submission to the current Diet session to enable the 83-year-old emperor to hand over the Chrysanthemum throne to Crown Prince Naruhito, in what would be Japan's first abdication in around 200 years.
The envisioned succession will make Prince Akishino, the crown prince's younger brother, the next in line to the throne.
In accordance with a provision in the Imperial House Law on female imperial family members' marriage, the number of female members of the family is expected to fall to 13 when Princess Mako marries at some point in the near future.
The main opposition Democratic Party has been calling for deeper debate on enabling princesses to establish their own branches within the imperial family after they marry commoners as a way to cope with the shrinking size of the royal family.
To that end, the Democratic Party is seeking a special resolution to be attached to the emperor's abdication bill, but Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party has been reluctant about that move. Some lawmakers said her marriage could provide impetus for considering ways to secure a stable succession more seriously.
Princess Mako enrolled at International Christian University in Tokyo in April 2010, becoming the first imperial family member to attend the university. She studied in the Faculty of Arts and majored in arts and cultural property studies. She also studied at the University of Edinburgh in Britain as an exchange student for nine months when she was a junior at ICU.
After graduation, she went on to study at the University of Leicester in Britain, where she obtained a master's degree in art museum and gallery studies in January 2016.
Currently the princess is an affiliate researcher at the University Museum of the University of Tokyo, while studying in a doctoral program at International Christian University.
She also attends ceremonies and serves as an honorary president of some events, such as the Tokyo International Book Fair, as part of her official duties. From her childhood days, she is known for being fond of reading and drawing.
Her younger sister Princess Kako, 22, also attends International Christian University. Her younger brother, Prince Hisahito, is currently third in line to the throne after Crown Prince Naruhito and his father Prince Akishino.
Ahead of her envisioned marriage, Princess Mako is expected to go through a string of ceremonies, including a betrothal ceremony called "Nosai-no-Gi" and the "Chyoken-no-Gi" meeting with the emperor and empress where the princess will express her gratitude to the imperial couple.
Upon her departure from the imperial household, the imperial economic council will be convened to decide the amount of a one-off payment to her in according with the imperial economic law. The eight-member council includes the prime minister.
For Emperor Akihito's only daughter Sayako Kuroda, formerly Princess Sayako, who left the imperial household when she married a Tokyo government official in 2005, 150 million yen ($1.3 million) in one-off payment was decided and for Princess Noriko, the amount was set at around 100 million yen.
Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako have a child, 15-year-old Princess Aiko.