Empress Michiko

Michiko, Empress of Japan, (born October 20, 1934) formerly and later the Crown Princess of Japan (April 10, 1959 to January 7, 1989), is the wife and consort of the reigning Emperor of Japan, HIM Emperor Akihito. She was the first commoner to marry into the Japanese imperial family. As crown princess and later as empress, she has become the most visible and widely travelled imperial consort in Japanese history. Her full title is Her Imperial Majesty The Empress of Japan.

Early life

Empress Michiko was born in Tokyo, the eldest daughter of Hidesaburo Shōda, president and later honorary chairman of Nisshin Flour Milling Company, and his wife, Fumiko Soejima. She attended Futaba Elementary School in Tokyo, but was obliged to leave during the fourth grade because of the American bombing during World War II. She returned to school after the war ended and attended the Seishin (Sacred Heart) High School in Tokyo.

She earned a bachelor of arts in English literature from the Faculty of Literature at the University of the Sacred Heart, Tokyo in 1957.

She also received an education at Harvard University in the United States and the University of Oxford in England, which helped her become fluent in English.

Biographers of the writer Yukio Mishima report that he had considered marrying Michiko Shoda, and was introduced to her for that hopeful purpose sometime in the 1950s.


In August 1957, she met then-Crown Prince Akihito on a tennis court at Karuizawa. The Imperial Household Council (a body composed of the Prime Minister of Japan, the presiding officers of the two houses of the Diet of Japan, or Parliament, the Chief Justice of Japan, and two members of the Imperial Family) formally approved the engagement of the Crown Prince to Michiko Shōda on November 27, 1958.Although the future Crown Princess was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, she was a commoner. During the 1950s, the media and most persons familiar with the Japanese monarchy had assumed the powerful Imperial Household Agency (Kunaicho) would select a bride for Crown Prince Akihito from among the daughters of the former court nobility (Kazoku) or from one of the former branches of the imperial family. Some traditionalists opposed the engagement, and it was widely rumored that Empress Kōjun also was against her son's engagement. When the dowager empress died in 2000, Reuters news agency reported that she had bullied her effervescent new daughter-in-law into a rumored nervous breakdown in the early 1960s. The young couple nonetheless proved widely popular among the Japanese public.

Marriage and family

The couple married on April 10, 1959.

Three children were born to the couple:

  1. HIH Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan, b. February 23, 1960;
  2. HIH Prince Akishino (Fumihito), b. November 30, 1965; and
  3. The former HIH Princess Nori (Sayako), b. April 18, 1969.

Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko again broke precedent by preferring to raise their children instead of entrusting them to the care of Court chamberlains; the Crown Princess even breastfed. Her efforts to break free of suffocating court etiquette regarding childrearing may have been even more serious than is popularly known. An article written by Sheila K. Johnson and published in 1997 in the JPRI Critique, the journal of the Japan Policy Research Institute -- "Sad Lives: A Tale of Two Princesses", Vol. 4, No. 9 -- reported that in the 1960s, rumors abounded that Crown Princess Michiko underwent an abortion partly to spite her controlling father-in-law, Emperor Hirohito.

Upon the death of Emperor Hirohito on January 7, 1989, her husband became Japan's 125th Emperor and she became Empress Consort. The new Emperor and Empress were enthroned (Sokui Rei Seiden no Gi) at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on November 12, 1990.

Having lost her voice for seven months during a nervous breakdown in the 1960s, the Empress again lost her voice for several months in the Fall of 1993. Court doctors attributed this to "strong feelings of distress". In fact, it was a reaction to personal attacks by Japanese media.

Official functions

The empress is expected to be the embodiment of Japanese values such as modesty and purity. She has demonstrated a strong sense of duty throughout her life, which makes her quite popular amongst the Japanese population.

As Crown Prince and Crown Princess, Akihito and Michiko made official visits to thirty-seven countries. Since their enthronement, the Imperial Couple have visited an additional eighteen countries, and have done much to make the Imperial family more visible and approachable in contemporary Japan.

Her official duties, apart from visits to other countries, include attendance at events and ceremonies, both inside and outside the Imperial Palace, visits to welfare and cultural facilities and receiving official guests including State Guests. For example in 2007, she had more than 300 meetings. She also takes part in religious ceremonies with the emperor, such as visits to Ise, Shinto shrines and imperial mausolea to pray to the ancestral spirits. In addition she is an accomplished classical pianist.

One of her most important functions is the annual ceremonial harvest of silkworms at the Momijiyama Imperial Cocoonery, which is the sericulture farm on the grounds of the imperial palace. The empress personally feeds the worms with mulberry leaves and takes care of them, the frames and the harvesting. Since 1994, a part of the silk production is donated by her to the Shōsōin repository in Nara. Although this part of her official activity might seem unusual for Westeners, the production and harvesting of silk is part of her ceremonial duties linked to Shintoism and Japanese culture and tradition.

See also


External links

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