Prince Akishino, the first in line to the Japanese throne, has lambasted the country’s media for their treatment of his eldest daughter, Mako, accusing them of saying “terrible things” about her in the run-up to her marriage.
Mako married Kei Komuro, a non-royal whom she met at university, on 26 October, almost four years after their engagement was called off following revelations about a minor financial dispute involving his mother. But they made only a brief public appearance before moving to New York, where Komuro works for a law firm.
Critical coverage of their engagement has left Mako, who relinquished her royal status when she married Komuro, suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“If you read the tabloids, well – I’m not sure how to say this exactly – but there’s a lot of things in there that are fabricated, although there are also some opinions we should listen to,” Akishino said in unusually frank comments at a press conference held to mark his 56th birthday on Tuesday.
Akishino’s broadside was a departure from press conferences customarily given by members of the imperial family, whose answers to questions submitted in advance are usually designed to ruffle as few feathers as possible.
Weekly magazine reports that Komuro’s mother, Kayo, was in a dispute over a ¥4m [$35,000] “loan” from a former fiance led to intense media scrutiny of his family, online abuse and questions among some members of the public about his suitability as the future husband of the emperor’s eldest niece.
“As for articles on the internet, there are also lots of comments … and some of them say really terrible things,” Akishino said in explaining the media’s role in Mako’s mental health problems. “There are people who are deeply hurt by this slander.”
Akishino, the younger brother of Emperor Naruhito, suggested that the traditionally taciturn Imperial Household Agency (IHA) could have done more to counter inaccuracies in media coverage of the couple.
“Libel, whether in a magazine or online, is unacceptable,” he said. “If you are going to argue against an article, you have to set proper standards and then protest when those are exceeded. Negative coverage may continue, so I think it is necessary to consider setting such standards in consultation with the IHA.”
On Tuesday, he said his “judgment” had affected the wider imperial family, since it gave the impression that important events and ceremonies involving its members were “extremely trivial”.
Akishino was aware of public unease about using taxpayers’ money to pay for celebrations while the financial dispute remained unresolved, while Mako refused a payment of around ¥150m ($1.3m) – also from the public purse – traditionally given to women who renounce their royal status when they marry.
Japan’s male-only succession laws mean Mako can never be a reigning empress. If she has a son he will be raised as a non-royal and will not ascend the Chrysanthemum throne.
The couple, both 30, had initially planned to give a press conference after registering their marriage, but concern over Mako’s mental health was reportedly behind their decision to make a brief statement and hand out written answers to pre-submitted reporters’ questions rather than respond verbally.
“Up until the last minute, Mako had wanted the press conference to be a two-way one, but it was difficult due to her complex PTSD,” Akishino said, according to the Kyodo news agency. He added that he would have preferred Komuro to have been given the “opportunity to speak and answer questions directly” about his mother’s financial affairs.
Japanese media reported that Komuro had repaid his mother’s former fiancé earlier this month.