Kei Komuro, recently married to the Emperor’s niece, formerly known as Princess Mako, shocked Japan after announcing that he had failed the New York Bar Exam on October 29.
This latest incident involving Komuro is proving to be a major source of embarrassment for the Imperial Household and, no doubt, a source of concern among Mako’s parents, Prince Fumihito–who is second-in-line to the throne—and his wife, Princess Kiko.
The Japanese public have been skeptical of Komuro all along, and now many feel that their worst fears have been proved correct. Reaction in the Twittersphere was quick and brutal.
The long saga is reminiscent of the hit drama Suits, which featured Meghan Markle as the up-and-coming paralegal Rachel Zane who, in the real world, subsequently went on to marry Britain’s Prince Harry and is now the Duchess of Sussex. A similar story—but in reverse—has been developing for years in Japan. It involved the recent marriage of a commoner to the niece of Emperor Naruhito, formerly known as Princess Mako, and her long-time college sweetheart, Kei Komuro, an aspiring lawyer and recent graduate of Fordham Law School in New York.
After waiting for years for the official go-ahead from their parents and the Imperial Household Agency, Princess Mako was finally to be able to wed Komuro at the end of last month, at which point she relinquished her Imperial title. Everything seemed to be going well until a bombshell dropped just as the newlyweds were fervently preparing to move to New York City.
Komuro had already accepted a job at a major law firm, and the couple had already signed a contract to rent an ultra-luxury apartment on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. The job offer—and, possibly, the marriage itself—was probably conditional upon Komuro being able to pass the bar exam for the State of New York. It was to be his next step toward being able to practice law in the U.S. The young couple decided to forego a wedding ceremony and went ahead a few weeks ago to register their marriage.
It certainly did not take long before the newlyweds tested the strength of their wedding vows, because Komuro flunked his first attempt at the bar exam.
What’s All the Fuss about Kei Komuro?
Some guys just can’t catch a break. That would be an understatement in the case of Komuro.
Who Is Kei Komuro?
Komuro, age 30, is the college sweetheart of former Princess Mako, niece of Emperor Naruhito. That is not a typo. Princess Mako is, in fact, now a “former princess,” because she officially left the Imperial Household when she formally registered her marriage to Komuro only a few weeks ago.
While Mako probably aspired to lead a relatively unpretentious yet comfortable, private life after finally getting the green light to marry Komuro, this latest incident is keeping the couple in the public eye—and now he’s got a black eye.
After graduating law school in Japan from the prestigious Hitotsubashi University Graduate School in 2018, Komuro enrolled in Fordham University School of Law in New York to pursue an American law degree to be able to practice law in the U.S. He successfully graduated in May, started working as a legal assistant at the law firm of Lowenstein Sandler, and subsequently took the bar exam for the State of New York in July.
Life was good! Before becoming a full-fledged lawyer in the U.S. Komuro simply had to patch up the longstanding dispute with the Imperial Household to be able to marry Mako, plan and execute a global relocation to the U.S. and, naturally, pass the bar exam.
His new employer, the law firm of Lowenstein Sandler based out of Roseland, New Jersey, which is just northwest of New York City, is a major firm in the Northeast. Founded in 1961, Lowenstein Sandler employs approximately 350 attorneys and almost 600 people overall. Their focus is in IT, life sciences, and investment funds. The firm also has offices in Manhattan, Palo Alto, Utah, and Washington, D.C.
Komuro and his wife have, apparently, already signed a contract for a luxury apartment in uptown Manhattan which would become the new base for the happy married life for which they had been waiting all of these years.
Komuro had been making steady progress and ticking off his “to do” list one by one until the unthinkable happened on October 29. He failed the bar exam!
According to the New York State Bar Examination Commission, 9,227 people took the exam. 5,791, or 63%, passed, but Komuro was one of the unlucky 3,436 people who had flunked.
Komuro’s Unexpected Results
According to NHK News 7, Komuro called Yoshihiko Okuno, the Japanese lawyer who has been supporting Mr. Komuro’s study abroad, on the morning of October 30. Komuro told him,
The result of this examination was unsuccessful. I am very sorry. I will try again for the exam in February next year. I will continue to make every effort.
It is likely that Komuro was shocked by the results.
Yotaro, a Japanese lawyer who has passed the New York Bar Exam, commented,
What? Kei Komuro failed the NY State Bar Exam… At the time I passed (2017), about 25 Japanese classmates took the exam and only 2 failed. I think it is an exam that Japanese people can pass if they study hard for 2 months normally. It is completely different from the Japanese bar exam. It is more like a driver’s license test. I wonder if he made some big mistake…
While Komura might simply have had a bad day when he took the exam, it is highly likely that most of his fellow graduates from Fordham probably passed. A year before, among those who sat for this particular test, 89.9% of Fordham graduates passed the State of New York bar exam on their first try. He is, therefore, in a small minority of Fordham graduates who failed on their first attempt.
At the very least his wife, now known simply as Mako Komuro, is supportive. She announced,
I accept what Mr. Komuro said and will support his (further) studies.
So, what will happen next?
What Happens Now?
Komuro will need to sit again for the exam, and the newlyweds will need to re-consider whether to move forward with their plans to relocate to New York City.
Odds Are against Him Being Able to Pass Next Time
Each state in the U.S. holds the bar exam twice a year, with the next one scheduled for next February. Given his recent announcement about the failing grade, it sounds like Komuro plans to try again early next year. There will be a lot riding on whether he can pass next time.
Hiroshi Kiyohara, a Japanese lawyer who is also licensed to practice law in New York, recently appeared on Japanese television to discuss this matter. He commented,
The pass rate will be low after the second time.
Kiyohara cited that every July around 65% pass the test because they have just recently graduated from law school and have spent at least 2 months cramming for the test. Among those who sit for the exam in February, typically only 45% pass due to trying to study on top of a busy work schedule.
This dilemma is, by the way, similar to the problem that that the fictional Rachel Zane of Suits (played by Meghan Markle) had when she was trying to pass the test to get into law school while working full-time as a paralegal.
Thus, Kiyohara concluded,
It can be generally said that February is more difficult to pass.
Perhaps Mako will, however, quickly pivot into a stereotypical “education mother” or kyoiku mama in Japanese (教育ママ) to ensure that her husband passes next time.
Will Komuro Still Have a Job?
There is no doubt that the partners at Lowenstein Sandler were also disappointed by Komuro’s failing score. They are, however, probably used to this situation among a small group of new recruits—especially among those for whom English is not their native language.
Many law firms in New York allow one failed attempt, but it is common practice to fire new recruits straight out of law school if they fail twice.
What about the Newlywed’s Plans to Move to Manhattan?
Five days after registering their marriage in Japan last month, the couple moved into an apartment in Shibuya, Tokyo. Two days later they visited a driver’s license center in Tokyo to apply for an international driver’s license for Mako as part of their preparations for relocating to New York City.
The couple will, however, need to consider whether it is practical to make this move now. The rent for the ultra-luxurious 100 square meter (approximately 1,100 square foot) 2LDK (living room, dining room, kitchen with 2 bedrooms) apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that has, reportedly, been put under contract by the couple is said to require a rent of U.S. $7,000 per month (approximately 800,000 yen). Thus, their rent alone is likely to exceed Komuro’s annual income.
Had Komuro passed the bar exam, it has been estimated that his starting salary could have been as high as $175,000 (approximately 20 million yen). The median starting salary for 2016 and 2017 graduates of Fordham’s law school who passed the bar exam on their first attempt was $118,210 (13.5 million yen), and 42% of the class of 2018 who passed the bar exam made at least $190,000 (21.6 million yen) during their first year on the job.
If Komuro remains at his current position, he is likely to make only a quarter of that amount. At Lowenstein Sandler paralegals earn $47,000 (5.3 million yen), and legal assistants make $60,000 (6.8 million yen). That is not enough to support an extravagant lifestyle—even if the newlyweds become a double-income-no-kids (DINKs) couple. There are reports that Mako will be working at a museum in New York, but that job may not generate enough income either.
Had Mako decided to take the one-time, tax-free lump sum payout from the Imperial Household, which was valued up to 152.5 million Japanese yen (approximately US $1.3 million), that she ultimately gave up, the couple’s financial situation would have been different.
It is possible to choose a less expensive apartment, but if their living quarters do not have adequate security, Mako’s personal safety would be a concern. That is something that the Imperial Household seems to want to avoid at all costs.
Implications for the Imperial Family
There is probably a lot of second-guessing going on among the members of the Imperial Household at the moment.
Major Source of Embarrassment
This test results are said to have upset even the Imperial Household Agency.
A senior official of the Imperial Household Agency said that he learned of the rejection through a report on NHK. He explained that the Imperial Household Agency is most afraid of the reaction of Prince Akishino and Princess Noriko, the parents of Mako. The official commented,
They both believed that Komuro would become a lawyer and be able to provide ‘a stable foundation’ for his life, so I think it’s only natural for them to feel uneasy as parents.
The newlyweds must have had a difficult conversation with Mako’s concerned parents.
More Restrictions on the Remaining Children?
Some are questioning whether the recent string of marriages to commoners is not all that it is cracked up to be. Perhaps the Imperial Family will return to its time-honored tradition of arranged marriages to graduates of the various educational institutions affiliated with Gakushuin.
All of these developments must be a source of concern for the only child of the Emperor and Empress, Aiko, age 19, whose title is Princess Toshi. Her cousins, who are the siblings of the former Princess Mako, Prince Hisahiko, age 15, and Princess Kako, age 26, are also probably wondering whether new restrictions will be placed on their future potential marriage partners.
Public Reaction to Komuro Failing the Bar
There has been widespread skepticism about Komuro among the Japanese public for many years.
“I Told You So”
It seems like this latest incident is an opportunity for many to vent their frustration on Twitter by, essentially, shouting “I told you so.” It is cited as more evidence that Komuro is just not considered to be “up to snuff” to marry into Japan’s Imperial Household (at least unofficially).
At the very least it seems as though the couple “jumped the gun” before ensuring that everything—including Komuro’s source of steady income—was, in fact, “buttoned down.”
The law firm where he works is baffled by the information about Kei Komuro’s rejection -> Mako had claimed that there was no fact that royal power was used at Fordham Law School, but how did KK, who failed the NY State Bar Exam, which 87% of Americans pass, become one of the only students in his class to receive a full tuition scholarship?
Given the couple’s right to at least a modicum of privacy and how the Imperial Household Agency famously protects the Imperial Family from the paparazzi, it is unlikely that we will ever get the full story behind such claims.
After formally announcing their marriage, Mako stated,
We are going to start a new life together. I think there will be difficulties in a different way as we live from now on.
After only a few weeks of life as a newlywed, this has certainly already proven to be very much of an understatement. Perhaps after this somewhat inauspicious start everything will, however, work out, Komuro will pass the bar exam next year, and the young couple will live happily ever after.
Mark Kennedy is a native of Chicago who has spent more than 20 years living, studying, and working in Japan. By day he is Country Head - Business Development, Nexdigm - Japan but becomes a writer after work. Mark is a lifelong student of the Japanese language and culture. He loves to travel throughout the country. Mark also is the author behind the "Real Gaijin" Substack, countryroadsjapan.com, as well as the Country Roads Japan and Coastal Sailing Japan YouTube channels. Photo supplied courtesy of the author who had stopped to check out the free-roaming horses and cows about half-way up to the summit of Mt. Aso, an active volcano in the center of Kyushu.