Splainer

Wednesday, October 27 2021


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I believe large organizations should be scrutinized and I’d much rather live in a society where they are than [in] one where they can’t be. But my view is that what we’re seeing is a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company.

That’s Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally responding to the flood of negative media coverage—triggered by the leak of a trove of internal company documents called The Facebook Papers. This as Facebook prepares to spend billions of dollars on creating an immersive virtual world where people (especially kids) can shop, play and interact with each other—an innovation that comes with many hazards.

 
Big Story

The wedding of Princess Mako

The TLDR: We decided to take a break from the usual frenzy of the news cycle and look at an unusual royal love story—which culminated in a quiet wedding yesterday. The wedding of Princess Mako and Kei Komuro has all the trappings of a fairytale—princess marries commoner—but at its heart, this is a story about real-world sexism. 

 

Researched by: Sara Varghese and Prafula Grace Busi

 

The family

Japan is ruled by the longest-running hereditary dynasty in the world, dating back to at least the sixth century AD. Just like their English counterparts, the royal family does not wield any political power—but keeps a far lower public profile. 

 

The members: The current Emperor Naruhito took the title in 2019 when his father, Akihito, abdicated the throne. He is married to Empress Masako. They have only one daughter and no sons. The heir to the throne is his younger brother Prince Akishino—and Princess Mako is his eldest child. She also has a younger sister and brother, Hisahito, who is next in line for the throne. 

 

The rules: are far stricter for the Japanese royal family than in other parts of the world—and far more sexist:

 

  • Members of the royal family cannot hold a job—nor can they vote or run for political office. 
  • More importantly, women cannot ascend the throne. No, this isn’t an age-old tradition, but dates back to 1889—and the double standard was reinforced by post-war laws. In fact, there have been eight empresses in Japanese history.
  • And yet, women cannot remain royals, and lose their titles when they marry a commoner—a rule that does not apply to men. 
  • This is a significant problem as the pool of suitable spouses has dramatically shrunk since World War II—when occupying US forces dismantled the Japanese aristocracy. All that’s left is the core imperial family.

 

The big problem: for the royal family is that it is shrinking due to these strict rules. In 2006, Prince Hisahito (Mako’s brother) became the first male to be born into the imperial family in 40 years. There are now only 17 members of the monarchy—and only three potential heirs to the throne. And only Hisahito is likely to be alive when the present 61-year old emperor dies.

 

Big point to note: Mako is now the third princess to abdicate her royal title. The other two were Princess Sayako—sister of the current emperor Naruhito—and Princess Ayako, who is Naruhito’s second cousin. OTOH, the emperor himself married a commoner—as did his own father. The other man to marry a commoner: Mako’s dad Crown Prince Akishino. 

 

The bride & groom

Princess Mako: The 30-year old studied at the elite school favoured by royals, but broke tradition by attending Tokyo's International Christian University. She has a master’s degree in Art Museum and Gallery studies at the University of Leicester. In fact, we don’t know much about her other than she is “independent and friendly.”

 

Kei Komura: is also 30 years old, and was raised by a single mother. His father died by suicide when he was a child. He has a law degree from Fordham University—and is now a practicing lawyer in New York.

 

Jab they met: The two met as students at the International Christian University in 2012—and went public with their plans to get married within a year. This unfortunately gave Japanese tabloids plenty of time to dig up dirt on Komura.

 

Love on the rocks

Mako and Kei became unofficially engaged in 2017—and were expected to get married in 2018. But the plans were derailed when the couple was hit by a huge financial scandal. And their relationship has been mired in nasty media coverage ever since. No, the problem isn’t that Kei is a commoner. The problem is Kei himself.

 

The debt drama: The biggest scandal surrounds his mother—which broke in 2018. Her former fiancé went public with the claim that she owes him 4 million yen ($36,000)—a part of which was spent on Kei’s education. Kei and his mother say they thought the money was a gift not a loan. Doesn’t sound like much, but the debt debacle raised questions about Kei’s financial fitness as a future husband—fueled by his future father-in-law’s own doubts. Even as recently as 2020, papa Akishino declared

 

“In order for many people to be convinced and celebrate (the marriage), I have said it is important for the issue to be dealt with. From my point of view, I think they are not in a situation where many people are convinced and pleased (about their marriage)."

 

In general, many Japanese are convinced that Kei is a gold-digger. It is the same elitism that led many to mock Mako’s own mother—the daughter of a university professor—as the “apartment princess.” 

 

The ponytail: Everything about Kei appears to annoy the Japanese media and public—with 80% opposing the marriage in surveys. When he returned to Japan from New York for the wedding, everyone was obsessed with his “disrespectful” hair. Photos and videos of Kei went viral: “a local sports outlet… carried the headline ‘Ponytail Returns,’ with photos of his new hairdo from various angles and even a drawing of his ponytail.” FYI, here’s the offending hairdo:

 

FYI: The ponytail disappeared in time for the wedding.

 

The real problem: appears to be that Mako has chosen someone who is not interested in following Japan’s strict rules of decorum:

 

“Part of it is that Mr. Komuro was not very submissive to Japanese values because he went to international school, is a fluent English speaker and quit a Japanese bank… In Japanese society, people like to see that people are sacrificing part of themselves to society and the group and family.”

 

But Kei is more “individualistic, trying to prove himself by accomplishing something professionally.”

 

A high price to pay

The royal women are subject to the punishing standards imposed by Japanese society on its women—and many have paid the price. The raging controversy over Kei has taken a toll on Mako’s mental health. Earlier this month, the imperial household revealed she is suffering from post-traumatic stress, and her psychiatrist said: “She felt like her dignity as a human being had been trampled on… she thinks of herself as somebody without value.”

 

Not the first: Mako’s own grandmother, Empress Michiko temporarily lost her voice nearly 20 years ago when criticised by the media as being somehow unfit to be the royal consort. The current Empress Masako—a Harvard-educated former diplomat—has had a stress-induced mental condition for nearly 20 years, mainly because she’s been savaged for not producing a male heir. And yes, both were commoners who “married up.”


The bottomline: At the post-wedding press conference, Mako said, “I sincerely hope that our society will be a place where more people can live and protect their hearts with the help of warm help and support from others.” And she said of her future as a civilian in New York: “There will be different kinds of difficulties as we start our new life, but we’ll walk together as we have done so in the past.” Cheers to that! We leave you with this adorable photo of the newlyweds:

 

Reading list

Reuters profiles the newlyweds, BBC News offers an overview of their relationship. New York Times has an excellent piece on the mental health burden on Japan’s royal women. Also in the New York Times: why the Japanese public has a hard time accepting Kei. South China Morning Post looks at the strict rules that govern the Japanese monarchy, while TIME magazine analyses its succession problem.

 

 
Headlines that matter

The biggest cities are failing women

That’s the conclusion of a Bloomberg Businessweek analysis of 15 global cities that are major hubs of commerce in their respective regions (no, none of them are in India). The researchers looked at five areas: safety, mobility, maternity provisions, equality, and wealth (earning potential and financial independence). Toronto, Canada, is at #1 while São Paulo, Brazil, was last. Why this is interesting: The research tries to capture the many factors that go into making a city good for women—including physical safety, public transport etc. The report is a long and detailed read but definitely worth your time.

 

India Today makes the wrong kind of news

One: The TV Today Network—which owns India Today and Aaj Tak—has filed a Rs 2 crore defamation suit against Newslaundry. The claim: Newslaundry videos have infringed on the company’s copyright by using their content. And these also “made untrue, unfair, disparaging as well as maliciously defamatory remarks” about its channels’ news, reporting and news anchors. (Indian Express)


Two: Two journalists have accused India Today TV executive editor Gaurav Sawant of sexually harassing them. Vidya Krishnan claims that he made sexual advances and assaulted her in her hotel room on a work-related road trip. The other Kanika Gahlaut says Sawant “lunged” at her at a conference. Sawant says he’s taking legal action, while India Today said “in no position to comment or investigate the matter since Sawant was not working with the organisation at the time of the incident [with Krishan].” (The Print)


A business park in space?

That’s the big plan unveiled by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. The 32,000 sq ft commercial space station named Orbital Reef will host up to 10 people—and provide customers with an ideal location for “film-making in microgravity” or “conducting cutting-edge research” and said it would also include a “space hotel.” BBC News has more details. Quartz takes a closer look at whether it’s a smart idea.

 
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In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • Arivu and Anirudh Ravichander rocking out to a peppy vaccine campaign anthem

 

A list of curious facts

  • The latest trend in dog breeding is lilac dogs
  • Podcasts that you can see—with “immersive scripts”
  • There are nearly 100 active “micronations” around the world
  • A bus tour for sleep-deprived residents 
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