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The life of Empress Michiko

Michiko Shōda – the future Empress of Japan – was born on 20 October 1934 at the University of Tokyo Hospital. She was the daughter of Hidesaburō Shōda and Fumiko Soejima and was the second of four children. She received a solid education, a combination of traditional and Western, and learned to speak English. She attended the Futaba Elementary School in Tokyo but was forced to leave because of bombings during the Second World War. She returned to Tokyo after the war and then attended the Sacred Heart School, from which she graduated in 1953.

She continued her studies at the University of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature. She met her future husband, the then Crown Prince Akihito, on a tennis court in August 1957. Their engagement was officially announced on 27 November 1958 with the engagement ceremony taking place on 14 January 1959. Michiko was considered to be a commoner, and it was rumoured that her future mother-in-law, the Empress Kōjun, who was a born Princess, opposed to the match. When her mother-in-law died in 2000, it became clear that she had indeed opposed the marriage and that her disapproval had caused Michiko to become depressed. Nevertheless, the couple had widespread public support. On 10 April 1959, she became Her Imperial Highness The Crown Princess, and the newlyweds moved to Tōgū Palace.

Akihito and Michiko at their wedding on 10 April 1959. By 宮内庁/Public Domain

Michiko gave birth to three children: Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan (born 1960), Fumihito, Prince Akishino (born 1965) and Sayako, Princess Nori (known as Sayako Kuroda since her marriage) (born 1969). In 1963, Michiko had an abortion because of her impaired health. She and her husband visited 37 foreign countries as Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Japan.

Like her daughter-in-law Masako, Michiko suffered from nervous breakdowns and depression due to pressures from the media, and her mother-in-law. Most notably, she lost her voice for seven months in the 1960s and once more in 1993. She also suffered from mouth ulcers, nosebleeds and intestinal bleeding due to psychological stress.

The Empress in the outfit worn to the jūnihitoe at the Ceremony of the Enthronement on November 1990. By Website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, CC-BY 4.0

On 7 January 1989, Michiko’s father-in-law died, making her husband the new Emperor. Michiko and Akihito were enthroned on 12 November 1990. She continued to accompany her husband at events and visits to other countries and the 47 prefectures of Japan.

Michiko is known to enjoy reading, music and playing the piano. She even forms a small band with her family. Emperor Akihito plays the cello, and Crown Prince Naruhito plays the violin. She translated several of Michio Mado’s poems into English and also composes her own poems, including waka. Several of these poems are also published, and the family regular publishes New Years’ poems.