When Mako, then a Japanese princess, announced her engagement to former classmate Kei Komuro in 2017, she said he had won over her heart with "his bright smiles like the sun".

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The two had met five years earlier when they were both university students, and shared their plans to wed the following year. It meant the princess would become an ordinary citizen, as female imperial family members forfeit their royal status upon marriage to a commoner.

Their smiles won over a country where the imperial family is closely scrutinised and its members are expected to be a guardian of traditions. The intense media coverage was mostly positive.

But that quickly changed.

Two months later, the first reports emerged about an alleged money dispute between Mr Komuro's mother and her former fiancé, who claimed mother and son had failed to repay a debt to him. Some questioned whether Mr Kumoro could struggle financially in the future.

Public perception soured. With the official explanation that the couple needed more time to arrange their ceremony, their wedding ended up postponed.

The former princess, who is now known as Mako Komuro, is the first child of the current emperor's younger brother, Prince Akishino, and his wife, Princess Kiko. Born on 23 October 1991, she initially followed royal tradition and attended the elite Gakushuin school, where members of the imperial family usually study.

But she broke with custom by leaving the institution for her university studies. Ms Mako attended Tokyo's International Christian University, where she studied art and cultural heritage, and spent a year at the University of Edinburgh. Later, she earned a master's degree at the University of Leicester, an experience she said was "wonderful".

People close to Ms Mako described her as an independent and friendly woman who had pursued a career while performing imperial duties, a profile by Japan's Kyodo news agency said.

She first met Mr Komuro, who was also born in 1991, at a meeting of students planning to go abroad in 2012. His humble origins meant that tabloids spent a long time digging dirt on his family. Amid the scandal in 2018, he moved to New York to study law at Fordham University, and the couple reportedly kept in touch through the internet.