In a recent trend among contemporary royals, niece to the Japanese emperor Mako Komuro made headlines in 2017 when she announced her decision to shed her title of princess in order to follow her heart. Declining both the formal Shinto betrothal ceremony that would have interfered with her relationship with her college boyfriend Kei Komuro and the $1.3 million government payout she was entitled to receive when she lost her noble status, the former princess went on to finally wed her sweetheart in October of last year. As they settle into life together, she has apparently found a new passion: volunteering at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
As first reported by the Japan Times, Komuro has been involved with an exhibition of Japanese hanging-scroll paintings at the Met. The forthcoming show is a survey of narrative illustrations on scrolls about the traveling monk Ippen, who introduced Buddhism in Japan during the Kamakura Period (1192–1333 CE) through prayers and dancing. The artist, Yamada Shinzan, was born in the Okinawan prefectural capital of Naha in the middle of the Meiji period and studied art formally in Tokyo, as well as in apprenticeship with a series of prestigious artists of the time.
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Komuro herself is a student of art history, and graduated from the International Christian University in Tokyo with a degree in art and cultural heritage. She also studied art history at the University of Edinburgh beginning in 2012, and received her Master’s degree in art museum and gallery studies at the University of Leicester in 2016.
While these credentials and interests scan well with the idea that the former royal might end up at a venerable art institution like the Met, her role so far appears limited to the exhibition. The museum’s website notes that Komuro wrote the catalogue entry for “Monk Ippen Giving a Warrior the Tonsure and His Wife as a Lay Buddhist Nun,” the only Shinzan hanging-scroll painting in the Met’s online collection database, which includes an analysis of the work, a thorough account of Ippen’s life, and additional context on artistic depictions of the subject.
The museum has not made any statements about Komuro’s involvement, likely reflecting a desire on the part of the newlyweds to maintain their privacy.
“What I would like is just to lead a peaceful life in my new environment,” Komuro told the Japan Times about her move to New York. Whether that life includes working with the Met or not, one hopes that Komuro’s former royal title does not outshine her qualifications as an art historian.