Her Imperial Majesty Empress Michiko of Japan (美智子), (born October 20, 1934) formerly Michiko Shoda 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, 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.
Empress Michiko was born in Tokyo, the eldest daughter of Hidesaburo Shoda, 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 in Tokyo in 1957. In August of that year, she met then-Crown Prince Akihito on a tennis court at Karuizawa. The Imperial Household Council (a body comprised of the prime minister of Japan, the presiding officers of the two houses of the Diet of Japan (or parliament), the chief judge of the Supreme Court, and two members of the imperial family) formally approved the engagement of the Crown Prince to Michiko Shoda on November 27, 1958. (Some sources report that the writer Yukio Mishima had considered marrying Michiko Shoda and was introduced to her for that hopeful purpose sometime in the 1950s.)
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 (kuge) or from one the former branches of the imperial family. Some traditionalists opposed the engagement, and it was widely rumored that the Empress Nagako also was against her son's engagement. When the dowager empress died in 2000, Reuters news agency reported that she had reportedly 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. The couple married on April 10, 1959.
Three children were born to the couple: the current Crown Prince (Naruhito), b. February 23, 1960; Prince Akishino (Fumihito), b. November 11, 1965; and 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 -- "," Vol. 4, No. 9 -- reported that in the 1960s, rumors abounded that the then-Crown Princess Michiko underwent an abortion partly to spite her controlling father-in-law, Hirohito.
Upon the death of the Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) on January 7, 1989, her husband became Japan's 125th emperor and she became empress (consort). The new Emperor and Empress celebrated were enthroned (Sokui Rei Seiden no Gi) at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on November 12, 1990.
As Crown Prince and Crown Princess, the current Emperor and Empress Michiko made official visits to thirty-seven countries. Since their enthronement, the imperial couple have visited an additional eighteen countries.