June 26, 2018 02:52 PM

Princess Ayako of Japan’s decision to follow her heart is making headlines around the world.

According to an official announcement on Tuesday by Japan’s Imperial Household, Ayako will marry a commoner this fall and leave the Imperial family as soon as vows are exchanged. Ayako is the daughter of Prince Takamado, who died in 2002 and was the cousin of Emperor Akihito.

Princess Ayako smiles at the Japan Grand Prix International Orchid Festival on February 16, 2018.
Splash News

On August 12, Ayako, 27, will become engaged in a traditional court ceremony to Kei Moriya, 32, who works for Japanese shipping firm NKY Line. They plan to marry on October 12 at Meiji Jingu Shrine in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, Japanese Times reports.

Ayako’s departure from the royal family slims it down to 17 members. Her second cousin and the Emperor’s eldest grandchild, Princess Mako, 26, made the same decision in May 2017. Although she decided to postpone her wedding and not marry her fiancé, Kei Komuro, until 2020, she officially left her royal status in September 2017. And Ayako’s older sister, Princess Noriko, married a commoner, a Shinto priest, in 2014.

Princess Ayako and Moriya met less than a year ago through their parents, who worked together at an NGO. Ayako’s mother, Princess Takamado, was hoping the introduction would inspire her daughter to get involved in global child welfare, but the connection quickly became deeper.

Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko pose with family members during an Imperial garden party in Tokyo on November 9, 2017.
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

A passion for helping others runs in both families. Ayako has a master’s degree in social work, and Moriya’s late mother was on the board of a Tokyo-based nonprofit whose name translates to Children Without Borders. Moriya is also a board member.

The Japanese monarchy is thought to be the oldest in the world, and legislators are attempting to modernize it. Revisions to the male-only succession law and allowing women who marry non-royals to stay within the family and start their own branch are both up for discussion.

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