A Japanese princess gave up her royal status on Monday as she tied the knot with a commoner in a traditional Shinto ceremony at a Tokyo shrine.
Princess Ayako, 28, the youngest daughter of a late cousin of Emperor Akihito, married Kei Moriya, a 32-year-old employee of Nippon Yusen, the shipping company.
While the marriage was celebrated widely in Japanese media, the union – and Princess Ayako’s departure from the royal family – cast a firm spotlight on Japan’s Imperial succession law.
Despite a looming succession crisis as the Imperial family shrinks in size, laws continue to dictate that female members are unable to inherit the throne or maintain their royal status after marrying a commoner, unlike their male counterparts.
Princess Ayako’s wedding took place in the serene confines of Meiji Jingu, a shrine surrounded by forests in central Tokyo which is dedicated to the spirit of the bride’s great grandfather Emperor Meiji.
The bride was dressed in traditional court clothing, including an intricately decorated kimono robe and wide layered trousers, while her hair was sleeked back in distinct aristocratic style.
The event was far from this year’s royal weddings in the UK which went hand in hand with parades of celebrity guests, analysis of designer dresses and intense media coverage.
In contrast, the Japanese couple exchanged rings, shared a cup of sake and read out a wedding oath during a private Shinto wedding ceremony reportedly attended by about 30 people, including family members.
The couple will celebrate in a more high profile fashion at a banquet on Tuesday at the Hotel New Otani in Tokyo, likely to be attended by the Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako as well as key government figures including Shinzo Abe, the prime minister.
Speaking after the shrine ceremony, the princess told a news conference: “I’m filled with joy to get married and to have so many people visit us at the Meiji Shrine and congratulate us.”
According to Kyodo News reports, Mr Moriya, who wore a morning suit and a top hat belonging to the bride’s late father, added: “I want to support her firmly and hold hands to look forward and build a family full of smiles.”
He also said he hoped to help Ayako adjust to a commoner’s life.
The marriage is likely to reignite the debate surrounding the role that women currently play within the Imperial family in modern-day Japan, a nation not famed for an impressive track record in terms of gender equality.
It was the Emperor who paved the way for the royal family to marry whomever they wished after becoming the first Imperial family member to tie the knot with Empress Michiko, a commoner who he famously met on a tennis court.
However, female members of the Imperial family still face having to renounce their royal status upon marrying commoners, according to the nation’s strict succession laws.
Princess Ayako bid farewell to Emperor Akihito last week. She said on Monday she hoped to continue to help the emperor and empress as a former member of the Imperial family.
The Imperial family’s loss of Princess Ayako – who receives a one-off payment of around £744,000 (107 million yen) from the state – brings the total number of family members to 18, including 13 women.
The figures reflect the growing succession crisis facing Japan’s shrinking royal family, with only four male heirs to the throne currently remaining, including Crown Prince Naruhito, who will take over when his father abdicates next year.
While there have been growing calls for reform of the Imperial succession law in recent years, changes have been resisted by powerful conservatives who are strongly opposed to women inheriting the Chrysanthemum throne.
Princess Ayako, who works as a research fellow in Social Work Studies at Josai International University in Chiba Prefecture, was introduced to Mr Moriya by her mother last December.
Mr Moriya, whose hobbies include marathons and triathlons, attended schools in Paris, Switzerland and the UK before graduating from prestigious Keio University in Tokyo.
The bride instantly connected with Mr Moriya, whose late mother was reportedly a long-time close friend of the bride’s mother, when they first met, telling media this summer: “I remember that our conversation got so lively that it didn’t feel like we had just met and that I had so much fun that I forgot about time.”
Meanwhile, Princess Mako, the oldest grandchild of the Emperor, had also planned to marry her fiancé Kei Komura this year, before the nuptials were postponed for two years due to insufficient preparations.