Japan’s royal ‘superfans’ undeterred by Princess Mako’s low-key wedding

Written by Oscar Holland, CNNSelina Wang, CNN

Contributors Emiko Jozuka, CNNJunko Ogura, CNN

As royal weddings go, the marriage between Japan’s now-former Princess Mako and her college sweetheart, Kei Komuro, was remarkably low-key.
Amid public skepticism about the union, which saw the emperor’s niece relinquish her title to wed a commoner, the pair became the first royal couple to forgo traditional marriage rites in the country’s history. Stripped of the usual pomp, the nuptials took place behind closed doors at a registry office in Tokyo, before the pair briefly appeared in front of the media at a nearby hotel.

But the subdued ceremony did little to dampen the enthusiasm of self-professed royal superfan, Fumiko Shirataki. Having waited for hours outside Tuesday’s press event to catch a glimpse of the couple, she will now add the day’s photos to a vast personal collection containing tens of thousands of images.

Royal superfan Fumiko Shirataki shares photos from her vast collection. Credit: Junta Ishikawa/CNN

“The royal family are like deities for me — I’m always praying for their health and happiness,” she told CNN in the days leading up to the wedding.

Aged 81, Shirataki has been chasing the royal family at official appearances and private engagements for almost 30 years. While pictures of her own family are stored away in photo albums, images of the royals have pride of place on the walls of her home in Kawasaki, Kanagawa prefecture. Shirataki said she even followed the current Emperor Naruhito and his wife, Empress Masako, on mountain hiking trips.

Indeed, it was Masako, Mako’s aunt, who first sparked Shirataki’s royal obsession.

“I initially started chasing the royals because I really wanted to get a perfect photo of then-Princess Masako,” she said. “I wanted to capture her in the center of the frame as she came out in her car, but I kept just shooting the front or back end of the car, so I was determined to keep trying until I got that shot.

Shirataki shakes hands with Japan's then-Empress Michiko on January 21, 2019.

Shirataki shakes hands with Japan’s then-Empress Michiko on January 21, 2019. Credit: Issei Kato/Reuters

“I love following Masako’s clothes and fashion choices,” Shirataki added. “She has such an elegant walk and is such a cool person — I wanted to capture her in full. I slowly got hooked on her over time.”

Conflicting emotions

The imperial family’s sense of style also appealed to royal enthusiast, Yoko Endo. Earlier this month, she waited for hours to see Mako as she formally reported her marriage to the emperor and empress.

“I just in awe of the fashion, the gestures, the grace of the ladies of the imperial family,” she said at the time. “It’s so different to the average person.”

Yoko Endo waits to catch a glimpse of Princess Mako, as she formally reported her marriage to the emperor and empress earlier this month.

Yoko Endo waits to catch a glimpse of Princess Mako, as she formally reported her marriage to the emperor and empress earlier this month. Credit: Junta Ishikawa/CNN

Endo has been following the former Princess Mako for the last 8 years, sometimes waiting for hours to “just catch a glimpse of her for a few seconds.”

“It’s so fleeting but even that makes me feel so happy,” she said, adding: “I feel like I’m losing a daughter. I have more photos of princess Mako than my own daughter.”

Like many in Japan, Endo has her reservations about the marriage. Komuro, the commoner son of a single parent, has been subjected to intense scrutiny over his suitability for the union. Images of him sporting long hair tied in a ponytail fueled a tabloid frenzy, while rumors about financial disputes involving his family have followed the couple since they announced their engagement in 2017.

At a press event Tuesday afternoon, Mako appeared alongside her husband in front of a selected group of journalists. The newlyweds apologized for any trouble caused by their marriage and expressed gratitude to those who supported them.

“To me, Kei is a very important, indispensable existence,” Mako said, wearing a pastel dress and pearls. “Up until today, there were only limited opportunities for me to express my feelings, and there were some misunderstandings because of that. There was truly unilateral speculation. I felt fear about such spread, and I felt saddened as well.”

Pictures of the Japan's imperial family at Shirataki's home in Kawasaki, Kanagawa prefecture.

Pictures of the Japan’s imperial family at Shirataki’s home in Kawasaki, Kanagawa prefecture. Credit: Junta Ishikawa/CNN

Endo admitted that she felt “a bit conflicted” about the marriage. “But as a woman, I think if Princess Mako will be happy then that’s all that matters,” she added. “It’s just sad she can’t have any ceremonies.”

Shirataki, too, regretted that Mako could not enjoy a traditional wedding. But she added that she does not have “such a strong opinion” on the former princess’ decision to leave the royal family.

“I feel a sense of relief that Princess Mako is finally going to be able to get married after waiting for three years,” she said, tears forming in her eyes.