Emperor Akihito’s True to Life Fairy Tale and Legacy

Emperor Akihito broke from 2,600 years of tradition and was the first imperial heir to marry a commoner, Michiko Shōda, formally known as the Empress consort of Japan. Michiko Shōda was born in 1934 in Tokyo. She was the daughter of a flour magnate and attended the exclusive all-girls Christian Sacred Heart School. Akihito and Michiko met at a tennis tournament in August of 1957.

Michiko was considered to be too low-born for the Crown Prince and was also educated in a Catholic environment. Ensuing the budding relationship between the Crown Prince, Michiko was sent to Brussels in September of 1958 to attend an international conference of the Alumnae du Sacré-Coeur.

Michiko Shōda, Empress consort of Japan.

Determined to keep in-touch with the love of his life, yet not wanting to be the cause of a diplomatic scandal, Akihito sought the aid of no other than the King of Belgium, King Baudouin, to send his messages directly to his sweetheart. Being a loyal friend, King Baudouin later negotiated the marriage of Akihito and Michiko with Emperor Hirohito directly, saying that if the Crown Prince is happy in life with Michiko by his side, he would be a better emperor.

The Imperial Household Council finally formally approved the engagement of Crown Prince Akihito to Michiko Shōda on the 27th of November in 1958.

Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko’s wedding.

The media frenzy was all about how their story was a tru to life “fairy tale” and was dubbed, “romance of the tennis court”. The engagement ceremony took place on the 14th of January 1959 and the marriage was on the 10th of April 1959.

The beginning of a new era

The Crown Prince’s decision to marry for love and break from a traditional arranged marriage was seen as a powerful recognition of a democratic Japan.

Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko with children. | Hipposcrashed

The young couple had three children, Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan (born 23 February 1960), Fumihito, Prince Akishino (born 30 November 1965) and daughter Sakayo Kuroda (born 18 April 1969). Akihito and Michiko made another uncommon decision by choosing to raise their children rather than allowing nannies to do all the work as was customary. Despite some adversity and relentless criticism from many who opposed the marriage, especially in the early years, the love and loyalty of the couple remained steadfast.

The Empress consort of Japan is credited for introducing a modern touch to the imperial household that includes showing Emperor Akihito how to crouch down or kneel when visiting disaster victims or people with disabilities.

Emperor Akihito and Empress consort Michiko.

Emperor Akihito’s 30 year reign on the Chrysanthemum Throne has left a remarkable legacy from seeing Japan undergo postwar modernization to winning a bid to host the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games. Perhaps his most notable legacy is being revered for bringing the imperial family closer to the Japanese people and winning their hearts in the process.