Japan's Princess Mako has postponed her wedding to her college sweetheart until 2020, sparking speculation that alleged money trouble involving the fiance's mother could have thrown a spanner in the works.
In an announcement that came completely out of the blue, the 26-year-old eldest granddaughter of Emperor Akihito cited time constraints as the reason to delay the formal engagement.
"We have come to realise that we do not have enough time to prepare for the ceremonies and our new life before the wedding planned in autumn," she said in a statement released through the imperial household agency Wednesday.
Mako and Kei Komuro, also 26, had been scheduled to be formally engaged in a traditional court ceremony next month before their wedding on November 4.
The imperial household agency insisted the couple still want to wed and flatly denied any connection between the postponement and a series of recent magazine articles about the alleged money trouble of the Komuro family.
But speculation is swirling that there could be more than meets the eye to the postponement, which was leading Wednesday's television news programmes.
For weeks, gossip magazines have been delving into the finances of Komuro's mother, who is widowed.
In late January, Japan's two biggest weeklies, each quoting an acquaintance of "a former fiance" of the mother, reported she had not repaid more than four million yen ($37,000) she had loaned from him.
The man called off the engagement after she asked for money so often, the reports said.
The money was reportedly spent on supporting the living of the single-parent household and the son's school tuition, including a half-year study at a US university.
But the Komuros argued they thought the money was "a gift", according to the Shukan Shincho weekly.
The liberal Asahi daily said "there have been worried voices in the imperial household agency since the money trouble was reported."
"Even an ordinary family would have cold feet over their beloved daughter's marriage if weekly magazines wrote this much," tabloids quoted an anonymous "top official of the imperial household agency" as saying.
Kei Komuro declined to comment late Tuesday, merely bowing deeply to a swarm of reporters waiting for him to finish work.
In her statement, the princess noted the couple needed to announce their informal engagement "much earlier than planned" after the news leaked out in May.
Schedules for events concerned were then announced in November but she admitted this may have been done "too hastily".
"We should have thought twice carefully whether the pace was actually right for us... Now, we'd like to have the marriage, a major life event, in a better way."
She apologised to those planning the royal wedding, blaming the young couple's "immaturity".
They have already informed the emperor and empress that wedding-related ceremonies will be delayed until 2020.
The imperial family has a packed schedule next year as the 84-year-old Emperor Akihito abdicates on April 30, 2019 - the first time for more than two centuries that a Japanese emperor has stepped down.
His eldest son Naruhito, who will turn 58 this month, is set to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne a day later.
Mako is the eldest daughter of Prince Akishino, Naruhito's brother, and Princess Kiko.
The Nikkei business daily warned against labelling Kei Komuro as not suitable as a partner for the royal.
"It would be a shame for a democratic country if concerns and criticism about family lineage or economic resources caused pressure," it said, warning it could create serious problems for future royal marriages.
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