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Empress Michiko (皇后美智子 Kōgō Michiko ), née Michiko Shōda (正田美智子 Shōda Michiko , born 20 October 1934), is the wife and consort of Emperor Akihito, the current monarch of Japan. 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.
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. Shōda attended Futaba Elementary School in Tokyo, but was obliged to leave in fourth grade because of the American bombings during World War II. She returned to school after the war and attended the Seishin (Sacred Heart) Junior High School and High School in Tokyo.
In 1957, she earned a bachelor of arts in English Literature from the Faculty of Literature at the University of the Sacred Heart, Tokyo with summa cum laude. She also attended courses at Harvard and Oxford.
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, the Chief Justice of Japan, and two members of the Imperial Family) formally approved the engagement of the Crown Prince to Michiko Shōda on 27 November 1958.
Although the future Crown Princess was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, she was nonetheless a commoner. During the 1950s, the media and most persons familiar with the Japanese monarchy had assumed that the powerful Imperial Household Agency (Kunaicho) would select a bride for the Crown Prince from amongst the daughters of the former court nobility (Kazoku) or from one of the former branches of the Imperial Family. Some traditionalists opposed the engagement, as Shōda comes from a Roman Catholic family, and it was widely rumoured that Empress Kōjun also was against the engagement.
Marriage and family
The couple married on 10 April 1959. They have three children:
- HIH Crown Prince Naruhito, b. 23 February 1960
- HIH Prince Akishino (Fumihito), b. 30 November 1965
- The former HIH Princess Nori (Sayako), b. 18 April 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.
Upon the death of the Shōwas Emperor on 7 January 1989, Crown Princess Michiko's husband became the 125th Emperor of Japan, and she became Empress Consort. The new Emperor and Empress were enthroned (Sokui Rei Seiden no Gi) at the Tokyo Imperial Palace on 12 November 1990.
The Empress is expected to be the embodiment of traditional 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.
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 within 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 Grand Shrine, other Shinto shrines and Imperial mausolea to pray to the Imperial Family's 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, 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. The production and harvesting of silk are part of her ceremonial duties, linked to Shintoism, Japanese culture, and tradition.
Titles and styles
|Reference style||Her Imperial Majesty|
|Spoken style||Your Imperial Majesty|
- 20 October 1934 – 10 April 1959: Miss Michiko Shōda
- 10 April 1959 – 7 January 1989: Her Imperial Highness The Crown Princess of Japan
- 7 January 1989 – present: Her Imperial Majesty The Empress of Japan
- Grand Cordon of the Order of the Precious Crown
- Austria: Grand Star of the Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria (1999) 
- Belgium: Grand Cordon of the Order of Leopold (Belgium)
- Denmark: Member of the Order of the Elephant (2 June 1998)
- Ethiopia: Order of the Queen of Sheba
- Germany: Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
- Lithuania: Grand Cross of the Order of Vytautas the Great
- Luxembourg: Knight of the Order of the Gold Lion of the House of Nassau
- Malaysia: Order of the Crown of the Realm
- Netherlands: Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lion (1991)
- Norway: Dame Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olav
- Poland: Order of the White Eagle (Poland)
- Portugal: Grand Cross of the Order of Saint James of the Sword (2 December 1993)
- Portugal: Grand Cross of the Order of Prince Henry (12 May 1998)
- Spain: Grand Cross of the Order of Charles III
- Sweden: Member of the Royal Order of the Seraphim
- Thailand: Dame of the Order of the Royal House of Chakri
- Honorary President of the Japanese Red Cross Society
|Crown Prince Naruhito||23 February 1960||9 June 1993||Masako Owada||Princess Toshi|
|Prince Akishino||30 November 1965||29 June 1990||Kiko Kawashima||Princess Mako of Akishino
Princess Kako of Akishino
Prince Hisahito of Akishino
|Princess Nori||18 April 1969||15 November 2005||Yoshiki Kuroda|
- "The commoners who married royalty". BBC. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
- "Briton let author commit hara-kiri". Sunday Times. 2 May 2005. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
- Herbert P. Bix, "Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan", New York, 2001, p. 661
- Imperial Household Agency | Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past Year and Her Birthday Schedule
- Vanity Fair
- Ultimate Style – The Best of the Best Dressed List. 2004. p. 158. ISBN 2 84323 513 8.
- "Reply to a parliamentary question about the Decoration of Honour" (pdf) (in German). p. 1298. Retrieved November 2012.
- Belga Pictures, State visit in Japan, 1996, Sovereign couples
- Belga Pictures, State visit in Japan, 1996, Sovereign couples & Prince Philippe
- www.borger.dk, Persondetaljer – Hendes Majestæt Kejserinde Michiko af Japan
- Volkskrant, State visit of the Netherlands in Japan, 1991, Group Photo
- The Royal Forums, State visit of japan in Norway, May 2005, Haakon & Michiko
- "Cidadãos Estrangeiros Agraciados com Ordens Portuguesas" (in Portuguese). presidencia.pt. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
- "Noblesse et Royautés" (French), State visit of Spain in Japan, November 2008
- Getty Images, State visit of Sweden in Japan, March 2007, Group photo
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Empress Michiko.|
- Kunaicho | Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress
- Kunaicho | Press Conference on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (2013)
- Hello! Magazine | Empress breaks her silence over Masako's illness
|Empress consort of Japan
|Order of precedence in Japan|
as the Consort
The Crown Princess