Empress Michiko

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The Empress wearing the Order of the Precious Crown
Empress consort of Japan
Tenure7 January 1989 – 30 April 2019
Enthronement12 November 1990
BornMichiko Shōda (正田美智子)
(1934-10-20) 20 October 1934 (age 86)
University of Tokyo Hospital, Tokyo City, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan
(m. 1959)
HouseImperial House of Japan (by marriage)
FatherHidesaburō Shōda
MotherFumiko Soejima

Michiko (美智子, born Michiko Shōda (正田美智子, Shōda Michiko), 20 October 1934) is a member of the Imperial House of Japan who served as the Empress consort of Japan as the wife of Akihito, the 125th Emperor of Japan reigning from 7 January 1989 to 30 April 2019.

Michiko married Crown Prince Akihito and became the Crown Princess of Japan in 1959. She was the first commoner[1] to marry into the Japanese Imperial Family. She has three children with her husband. Her elder son, Naruhito, is the current emperor to the Chrysanthemum Throne. As crown princess and later as empress consort, she has become the most visible and widely travelled imperial consort in Japanese history. Upon Emperor Akihito's abdication, Michiko received the new title of Jōkōgō (上皇后), or Empress Emerita.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Michiko in 1940

Michiko Shōda was born on 20 October 1934 at the University of Tokyo Hospital in Bunkyō, Tokyo, the second of four children born to Hidesaburō Shōda (正田英三郎 Shōda Hidesaburō; 1903–1999), president and later honorary chairman of Nisshin Flour Milling Company, and his wife, Fumiko Soejima (副島富美子 Soejima Fumiko; 1909–1988). Raised in Tokyo and in a cultured family, she grew up receiving a careful education, both traditional and "Western", learning to speak English and to play piano and being initiated into the arts such as painting, cooking and kōdō. She has an older brother Iwao, a younger brother Osamu, and a younger sister Emiko.[3] She is the niece of several academics, including Kenjirō Shōda, a mathematician who was the president of the University of Osaka from 1954 until 1960.[4]

Shōda attended Futaba Elementary School in Kōjimachi, a neighborhood in Chiyoda, Tokyo, but was required to leave in her fourth grade year because of the American bombings during World War II. She was then successively educated in the prefectures of Kanagawa (in the town of Katase, now part of the city of Fujisawa), Gunma (in Tatebayashi, home town of the Shōda family), and Nagano (in the town of Karuizawa, where Shōda had a second resort home). She returned to Tokyo in 1946 and completed her elementary education in Futaba and then attended the Sacred Heart School for Junior High School and High School in Minato, Tokyo. She graduated from high school in 1953.[citation needed]

In 1957, Shōda graduated summa cum laude from the Faculty of Literature at the University of the Sacred Heart (a Catholic university in Tokyo) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature.

Since she came from a particularly wealthy family, her parents were very selective about her suitors. There had been several contenders for her hand in marriage in the 1950s.[5] Biographers of the writer Yukio Mishima, including Henry Scott Stokes, report that Mishima had considered marrying Michiko Shōda, and that he was introduced to her for that purpose some time in the 1950s.[6][7]

Engagement and marriage[edit]

Wedding portrait with Emperor Shōwa and Empress Kōjun, 10 April 1959
A Japanese stamp commemorating the imperial wedding

In August 1957, she met then-Crown Prince Akihito on a tennis court at Karuizawa near Nagano. The Imperial Household Council formally approved the engagement of the Crown Prince to Michiko Shōda on 27 November 1958. At that time, the media presented their encounter as a real "fairy tale",[5] or the "romance of the tennis court". The engagement ceremony took place on 14 January 1959.

The future Crown Princess was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, but she was still a commoner. During the 1950s, the media and most persons familiar with the Japanese monarchy had assumed that the powerful Imperial Household Agency would select a bride for the Crown Prince from the daughters of the former court nobility, or from one of the former branches of the Imperial Family. Some traditionalists opposed the engagement, as Shōda came from a Catholic family,[8] and although she was never baptized, she was educated at Catholic institutions and seemed to share the faith of her parents. It was also widely rumored that Empress Kōjun had opposed the engagement. After the death of Empress Kōjun in 2000, Reuters announced that the former Empress was one of the strongest opponents of the marriage, and that in the 1960s, she had driven her daughter-in-law to depression by persistently accusing her of not being suitable for her son.[9] Death threats alerted the authorities to ensure the security of the Shōda family.[5] Yukio Mishima, known for his traditionalist position, said at the time: "The imperial system becomes 'tabloidesque' in its move toward democratization. It's all wrong—the idea (of the Imperial Family) losing its dignity by connecting with the people."[10]

However, the young couple had by then gained wide public support. That support also came from the ruling political class. Additionally, everyone showed affection for the young "Mitchy" who had become the symbol of Japan's modernization and democratization (the media at the time hinted at the phenomenon of a "Mitchy boom"). The wedding finally took place as a traditional Shinto ceremony on 10 April 1959. The wedding procession was followed in the streets of Tokyo by more than 500,000 people spread over an 8.8 km route, while parts of the wedding were televised, thus making it the first imperial wedding to be made available for public viewership in Japan, drawing about 15 million viewers.[10] In accordance with tradition, Shōda received a personal emblem (o-shirushi (お印)): the white birch of Japan (Shirakaba (白樺)) upon admission to the imperial family.

Crown Princess[edit]

The young couple then moved to Tōgū Palace (東宮御所, Tōgū-gosho), or "East Palace", the traditional name of the official residence of the crown prince installed since 1952, located within the grounds of the Akasaka Estate in Motoakasaka, Minato, Tokyo. They left Tōgū Palace after her husband acceded to the throne in 1989.

The couple have three children:

  1. Naruhito, Emperor of Japan (天皇陛下, Tennō Heika, born 23 February 1960 at Imperial Household Agency Hospital in Tokyo Imperial Palace, Tokyo)
  2. Fumihito, Prince Akishino (秋篠宮文仁親王, Akishino-no-miya Fumihito Shinnō, born 30 November 1965 at Imperial Household Agency Hospital in Tokyo Imperial Palace, Tokyo)
  3. Sayako, Princess Nori (紀宮清子内親王, Nori-no-miya Sayako Naishinnō, born 18 April 1969 at Imperial Household Agency Hospital in Tokyo Imperial Palace, Tokyo), following her marriage to urban designer Yoshiki Kuroda on 15 November 2005, Princess Nori gave up her imperial title and left the Imperial Family as required by 1947 Imperial Household Law, took the surname of her husband and became known as "Sayako Kuroda" (黒田清子, Kuroda Sayako).
Michiko and her family in 1969

In 1963, the Associated Press reported that the Crown Princess, then about three months pregnant, underwent an abortion on 22 March, in Tokyo.[11] As the article stated, "The operation was advised by her physician, Prof. Takashi Kobayashi, who delivered Michiko's first child, three-year-old Prince Hiro, a spokesman said. The spokesman said it is believed the 28-year-old princess' health has been impaired by a continuous round of official and social functions before pregnancy".[11]

Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko with Queen Juliana, Princess Beatrix and Prince Claus in 1979

Contrary to the tradition that the children of the imperial family should be separated from their parents and placed with private tutors, Crown Prince Akihito and his wife Crown Princess Michiko again broke precedent from the start by preferring to raise their children instead of entrusting them to the care of court chamberlains; the Crown Princess even breastfed.[12] She and her husband have also built up a strong position among the general public, by their frequent trips in the 47 prefectures in the country to meet people but also for the liberties taken by the imperial couple vis-a-vis the protocol. At a more formal level, the Crown Prince and Princess visited 37 foreign countries between 1959 and 1989.

She suffered from several nervous breakdowns because of the pressure of the media and, according to Reuters, the attitude of her mother-in-law, that had resulted in particular in making her lose her voice for seven months in the 1960s and again in the fall of 1993. Empress Michiko had to cancel many of her official duties in the spring of 2007, while suffering from mouth ulcers, nosebleeds and intestinal bleeding due to psychological stress, according to her doctors.[13] This would be similar to the situation of her daughter-in-law, Crown Princess Masako, who also underwent several episodes of depression due to the pressures of her position.[14]

Empress of Japan[edit]

Empress Michiko wearing the jūnihitoe at the enthronement ceremony in November 1990

Upon the death of Emperor Shōwa 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.

Since their enthronement, the imperial couple have visited many countries, and have done much to make the Imperial Family more visible and approachable in contemporary Japan. They also tried to be close to the people, visiting the 47 prefectures of Japan.

Her official duties, apart from visits to other countries, are to assist her husband at events and ceremonies, both within and outside the Imperial Palace, receiving official guests including state guests and also to visit the social, cultural and charitable institutions and facilities. For example, in 2007, Michiko performed duties in her official capacity on more than 300 occasions.[15] For many years Akihito and Michiko visited facilities for children on Children's Day and facilities for the elderly on Respect for the Aged Day. The Imperial Household Agency announced that after 2014 they will pass on these duties to the younger generation. Their health has had no bearing on this decision.[16] Following the death of her mother-in-law, Empress Dowager Nagako, on 16 June 2000, she succeeded her as Honorary President of the Japanese Red Cross Society.[17]

The Empress feeds mulberry leaves to silkworms in the Imperial Palace Grounds, May 2013

As empress, she was particularly responsible for Momijiyama Imperial Cocoonery, a sericulture farm on the grounds of the imperial palace. She participated in the annual ceremony of harvesting silk, personally feeds silkworms with mulberry leaves and is responsible to take care of them, the frames, and the harvesting. The production and harvesting of silk were part of her ceremonial duties, linked to Shintoism, Japanese culture, and tradition. From 1994 to 2019, the Empress offered a part of the harvested silk of the koishimaru variety (the oldest species now kept in Japan) to the Shōsōin Treasure-house in the Buddhist temple Tōdai-ji in Nara to be used for the restoration of its treasures.[15]

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. She takes part in religious ceremonies with her husband, such as visits to Ise Grand Shrine, other Shinto shrines and Imperial mausoleums to pray to the Imperial Family's ancestral spirits. In addition, she is an accomplished classical pianist.

The Empress was elevated into the Hall of Fame of International Best Dressed List in 1990.[18][19]

Hobbies, passions and literary works[edit]

Michiko Shōda while playing piano in October 1958

The Empress Emerita particularly enjoys reading, music and plays the piano.[20] Moreover, the imperial family has been known for several decades to form, occasionally, a family piano trio, with Crown Prince Akihito playing the cello, Crown Princess Michiko playing the piano, and Prince Naruhito playing the violin. Empress Michiko is also known to be particularly keen on gagaku, a kind of traditional Japanese court music.

She is also a fan of poetry, including the works of Michio Mado that she has selected, compiled and translated several of his poems in a series of collection under the titles Dobutsu-tachi (Animals) in 1992 and Fushigina Poketto (The Magic Pocket) in 1998.[12]

She has composed several poems, including waka.[21][22] Some of them have been published: a series of compounds wakas by Akihito and Michiko, Crown Prince and Princess, were published in 1987 and then republished in 1991 under the title Tomoshibi: Light. Finally, a collection of 367 waka by the Empress was published in 1997 under the title Seoto (瀬音, The Sound Current), and 53 of them have been translated into French and published in France by Signatura under the title Sé-oto, song of the ford.[23]

In 1991, she wrote a children's book, illustrated by Wako Takeda: Hajimete no Yamanobori ("My First Mountain Climb").[12]

She is a hibernophile with an interest in Children of Lir, recites I See His Blood Upon The Rose by Joseph Plunkett as a party piece, and even speaks passable Irish.[24]


In June 2019, it was announced that Michiko had heart valve abnormalities and an irregular pulse, though she was reported to be well enough to undergo cataract operations.[25] In August 2019, it was revealed that she was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer a month prior while undergoing a routine medical appointment, and was scheduled to have the growth removed.[26] In September 2019, it was reported by The Japan Times that the surgery was successful.[27] On her 86th birthday in October 2020, it was revealed that she had been suffering from a mild fever since May.[28]


The Emperor emeritus Akihito and the Empress emerita have three children, two sons and a daughter.

The Emperor and Empress with their family in November 2013
Name Birth Marriage Issue
Date Spouse
Naruhito, Emperor of Japan
(Naruhito, Prince Hiro)
23 February 1960 9 June 1993 Masako Owada Aiko, Princess Toshi
Fumihito, Crown Prince Akishino
(Fumihito, Prince Aya)
30 November 1965 29 June 1990 Kiko Kawashima Princess Mako
Princess Kako
Prince Hisahito
Sayako, Princess Nori 18 April 1969 15 November 2005 Yoshiki Kuroda None

Titles, styles and honours[edit]

Styles of
Empress Emerita Michiko
Imperial Coat of Arms
Reference styleHer Majesty[29]
Spoken styleYour Majesty

Titles and styles[edit]

  • 20 October 1934 – 10 April 1959:
    • Miss Michiko Shōda (正田美智子 Shōda Michiko)
  • 10 April 1959 – 7 January 1989:
    • Her Imperial Highness The Crown Princess (皇太子妃殿下 Kōtaishi-hi Denka)
    • Her Imperial Highness The Crown Princess Michiko (皇太子明仁親王妃美智子殿下 Kōtaishi Akihito Shinnō-hi Michiko Denka)
  • 7 January 1989 – 30 April 2019:
    • Her Imperial Majesty The Empress (皇后陛下 Kōgō Heika)
  • 1 May 2019 – present:
    • Her Imperial Majesty The Empress Emerita (上皇后陛下 Jōkōgō Heika)[30]


Honorary positions[edit]


  1. ^ Herbert P. Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, 2000 (ISBN 978-0-06-019314-0)
  2. ^ "Government panel outlines proposals on Emperor's abdication, titles". The Japan Times Online. 14 April 2017. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
  3. ^ "Michiko Shoda and Her Family" Corbis Images. "In the picture are (left to right), front row, Mrs. Fumi Shoda, her mother; Michiko; Telichiro, her grandfather; Emiko, her younger sister; and Hidesaburo Shoda, her father. Standing in back are (left), Osamu, a younger brother; and Iwao, an elder brother. The engagement of the Crown Prince to a commoner breaks more than 2,000 years of Japanese tradition. November 27, 1958."
  4. ^ "History". University of Osaka. Archived from the original on 2 March 2009.
  5. ^ a b c "JAPAN: The Girl from Outside". TIME. 23 March 1959. Archived from the original on 6 September 2009. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  6. ^ "Briton let author commit hara-kiri". Sunday Times. 2 May 2005. Archived from the original on 4 September 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  7. ^ Saru (26 October 2015). "三島入門 (An Introduction to Mishima) | Mutantfrog Travelogue". Mutantfrog.com. Archived from the original on 19 January 2009. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  8. ^ Herbert P. Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, New York, 2001, p. 661
  9. ^ "Japan's Dowager Empress Dead at 97". CBS News. 16 June 2000. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  10. ^ a b "Imperial marriage created bond with people". The Japan Times. 9 April 2009. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  11. ^ a b "Japanese Princess Has an Abortion", The Miami News, 22 March 1963, page 3
  12. ^ a b c "Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress – The Imperial Household Agency". Kunaicho.go.jp. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  13. ^ "Japan Empress Michiko ill". Smh.com.au. 6 March 2007. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  14. ^ Powell, Mike. "The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  15. ^ a b "Activities of Her Majesty the Empress over the Past Year and Her Birthday Schedule" (PDF). Kunaicho.go.jp. 20 October 2007. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  16. ^ "Press Conference on the occasion of His Majesty's Birthday (2013) – The Imperial Household Agency". Kunaicho.go.jp. 23 December 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 July 2013. Retrieved 27 July 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 September 2011. Retrieved 4 May 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ Zilkha, Bettina (2004). Ultimate Style – The Best of the Best Dressed List. p. 158. ISBN 2-84323-513-8.
  20. ^ "Press Conference on the occasion of Her Majesty's Birthday (Written Answers) (2013)". Kunaicho.go.jp. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  21. ^ "Year-end Presentations of Waka Poems (2013)". Kunaicho.go.jp. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  22. ^ "Waka Poems by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress and Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince and Princess (2014)". Kunaicho.go.jp. Retrieved 22 January 2014.
  23. ^ (in French) Présentation du livre Sé-oto, Le chant du gué de l'impératrice Michiko sur le site shunkin.net Archived 27 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ McNeill, David (18 June 2010). "Japanese royal to spend time in Dublin studying English". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
  25. ^ Yamaguchi, Mari (11 June 2019). "Japan's former empress has heart problem but fine to travel". Associated Press. Retrieved 10 June 2021.
  26. ^ "Japan's ex-Empress Michiko has early stage breast cancer". ABC News. 9 August 2019.
  27. ^ "Empress Emerita Michiko leaves hospital after breast cancer surgery". 10 September 2019. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  28. ^ "Japan's former Empress Michiko turns 86". The Japan Times. 20 October 2020. Retrieved 10 June 2021.
  29. ^ "Their Imperial Majesties the Emperor and Empress - The Imperial Household Agency". www.kunaicho.go.jp.
  30. ^ "English Titles and Basic words relating to the Imperial Succession" (PDF). Imperial Household Agency. 10 April 2019. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  31. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question about the Decoration of Honour" (PDF) (in German). p. 1298. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  32. ^ [1]
  33. ^ "NEPAL : Order of Ojaswi Rajanya" (PDF). Omsa.org. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  34. ^ "Embassy of Japan in Nepal". Np.emb-japan.go.jp. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  35. ^ GOVPH. "Filipino recipients of Japanese decorations and Japanese recipients of Philippine decorations | Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines". Gov.ph. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  36. ^ a b "CIDADÃOS ESTRANGEIROS AGRACIADOS COM ORDENS PORTUGUESAS – Página Oficial das Ordens Honoríficas Portuguesas". Ordens.presidencia.pt. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  37. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 January 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  38. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 June 2015. Retrieved 21 January 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  39. ^ "Empress Masako conducts 1st official duty in new capacity". Kyodo News. 22 May 2019. Retrieved 7 December 2020.

External links[edit]

Japanese royalty
Preceded by
Empress consort of Japan
Succeeded by