The Japanese Royal Family, or the Imperial Family, consists of Emperor Akihito (明仁さま), the Empress Michiko Shoda (正田美智子さま), their children and other family members. The Imperial House was founded in 660 BC by the first emperor of Japan, Jimmu (神武).
It is the oldest dynasty in the world, with 125 preceding monarchs reigning over Japan for more than two millennia. It is the symbol of Japanese history, tradition, power, and royalty.
Although many royal families are known for strictly practicing traditions, the current family can be seen as an exception. The emperor himself married outside royalty, setting an example for modern Japan, which is still conservative in many ways. Let’s have a look at the love stories of the emperor and his sons, Naruhito (徳仁さま) and Fumihito (文仁さま). Their love stories have created a lot of buzz during their time, and continue to impress many others today.
His Majesty Emperor Akihito, who was coronated in 1989, is the 125th emperor in the long order of Japanese monarchy. He was born in Tokyo to one of the most controversial leaders in the world, Emperor Hirohito (裕仁さま), also known (posthumously) as Emperor Showa (昭和天皇), who pursued Japan’s imperial dreams.
Emperor Akihito became a crowned prince in 1952 and finally ascended the throne after his father’s death in 1989. He is regarded as one of the most-loved emperors in Japan who brought the royal family closer to the people. He has visited several countries to promote humanitarian deeds and increased Japan’s participation in world affairs. He has issued several statements of remorse to countries which suffered from Japanese occupation, including Korea, and he also won the hearts of millions of people by visiting war memorials in Japan and battlefields abroad.
Empress Michiko Shoda was born in Tokyo to a wealthy businessman named Hidesaburo Shoda (正田英三郎), the former chairman of food manufacturing company Nisshin Seifun Group (日清製粉). She was educated in English Literature at the University of Sacred Heart (聖心女子大学) in Tokyo and even attended courses at Oxford, where she was popularly known by her nickname, Mitchi. She was also known as Temple-chan because many thought she resembled the famous American actress Shirley Temple. She created what the media called Mitchi Boom when she married Emperor Akihito.
The love story of the Emperor and the Empress was no less than a fairytale, so it seemed. Although Empress Michiko was born into a super rich family, she was still seen as an outsider by the royal family. The nation got divided over whether the then-crown prince Akihito should marry Michiko, who did not have any royalty in her lineage.
Usually, members of royal families marry within their clan to keep their royal inheritance intact. However, the crown prince broke the norm by marrying Michiko. Many traditionalists of Shinto shrines opposed the marriage due to Michiko’s western upbringing and catholic values. The mother of Crown Prince Akihito, Empress Kojun (香淳皇后), strictly warned him not to go ahead with the engagement. There were even death threats issued to Shoda family members from unknown people.
In the year 1957, a tennis court in Karuizawa (軽井沢) became the meeting place for the then-crown prince and Michiko. They fell in love with each other in a very short period of time and spent a lot of time together. The young couple inspired many modernists who were pushing for the democratization of Japanese royalty.
It was actually reported that the famous Japanese novelist and actor, Yukio Mishima (三島由紀夫), was considering marrying Michiko. However, after many interesting turns of events, Michiko got engaged to the crown prince. The wedding march was attended by almost half a million people lining up for 8.8km down the streets of Tokyo. Millions more were hooked onto TVs and radios, captivated by the unusual royal wedding. The wedding took place under Shinto traditions with grandeur on April 10 1959. The couple has been together for more than half a century, becoming a symbol of modern Japan.
Prince Fumihito, also known as Prince Akishino (秋篠宮), is second-in-line to ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne after his older brother, Crown Prince Naruhito. Akishino was a name given to Fumihito after his marriage.
Prince Fumihito was born to Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on November 30 1965. He studied a lot of disciplines including law, biology, taxonomy and ornithology. He is a multi-talented person with a lot of special interest in fishing, calligraphy, tennis, and music. He, too, married an outsider and broke the tradition just like his father. He has dedicated his life to bringing Japan closer to many developing countries diplomatically. He visited many southeast Asian countries and even volunteered there, helping people to increase their standard of living. He is an avid nature lover and also the titular president of WWF (World Wide Fund) Japan.
Princess Kiko (紀子さま), also known as Princess Akishino, was born to an economics professor called Tatsuhiko Kawashima (川嶋辰彦) of Gakushuin University (学習院大学). Being brought up in a normal family, she was always interested in her studies. After graduating in Humanities at Gakushuin University, she moved onto her Ph.D. in the same field at Ochanomizu University (お茶の水女子大学).
She lived in the US and Austria as a child and became fluent in English and German. After getting married, she gained the title Princess Akishino and has been actively involved in many diplomatic and humanitarian duties. She works closely with Japanese Red Cross Society (日本赤十字社) as an honorary vice president. She got a lot of attention when she was getting married, as she was the second woman whom the royal family embraced from the outside.
The love story of the couple Prince and Princess Akishino began on the campus of Gakushuin University, where they studied as undergraduates together. They fell in love and decided to get married three years after they met. They had to postpone their engagement for one year as young Prince Fumihito’s grandfather, Emperor Hirohito, died in 1989.
Some sources say that the Imperial Family refused Fumihito’s marriage earlier on the grounds of delaying his older brother Crown Prince Naruhito’s marriage. It is a tradition running in the Imperial Family that the eldest son must get married first. However, some magazines reported that Fumihito went to the extent of offering to renounce his royal status so that he would be able to marry Kiko. Later, with Empress Michiko’s intervention, the marriage took place without any problems.
Many people saw the marriage as a classic love story that could influence the democratization of Japan. The couple followed in the footsteps of their parents and set an example again. Unlike Empress Michiko, Princess Kiko is actually from a very middle-class background and used to live in a tiny apartment before moving to the royal palace. Kiko’s humble beginnings, together with her politeness and beauty, have won many hearts in Japan. The couple has three beautiful children – Princess Mako (眞子さま), Princess Kako (佳子さま) and Prince Hisahito (悠仁さま). The children are also adored by the Japanese people, especially the second daughter, Princess Kako, who caught media attention recently because of her elegance and beauty.
Crown Prince Naruhito is the successor who will ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne after Emperor Akihito. He was born to the Japanese Royal Family, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in the year 1961.
As a child, he was keen in sports and history. Like every other royal family member, he was educated at Gakushuin University. He also spent some time in Oxford and met many dignitaries, including the British Royal Family.
He has participated in many world events and committed to improving diplomatic ties with many countries. He has received many honorary awards, especially the Grand Cross of many European nations, some of them being Greece, Italy, Hungary, and Portugal.
The Crown Princess Masako Owada (小和田雅子さま) was an aspiring diplomat who worked for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs before marrying the Crown Prince. She is the daughter of Hisashi Owada (小和田恆), who is the ex-president of International Court of Justice. She spent time in Russia and the United States when she was growing up.
Just like her father, she entered the field of international relations and diplomacy. Masako got heat from the general public and the Imperial House when she was marrying the Crown Prince due to a controversy surrounding her family’s intervention in the Minamata Scandal. Her grandfather was criticized for being a part of a financial institution that tried to save Chisso Corporation, the chemical company responsible for poisoning the waters of Minamata and causing many people to suffer from a rare disease called the Minamata disease (水俣病).
The young couple met at the University of Tokyo during a diplomatic tea ceremony for the Duchess of Lugo. Naruhito fell in love with her immediately and started seeing her for a long time. It is said that Masako declined marriage proposals of Naruhito twice before accepting for the third time. She thought marrying a royal might inhibit her freedom and halt her diplomacy career. However, Naruhito convinced her relentlessly saying that being a royal member itself is a diplomatic role and that she has nothing to worry about. The marriage took place grandiosely like any other royal wedding in 1993.
After the wedding, the couple had to go through a lot of sufferings. The crown princess had a miscarriage in 1999 and as a result, suffered from depression for a while. Thankfully, she later gave birth to a baby girl named Princess Aiko (愛子さま) in 2001.
According to Japanese royal family traditions, it is a boy who should inherit the Chrysanthemum Throne. Debates went on for days whether or not Princess Aiko be nominated as a successful heir. Some recommended to even bring changes in the Imperial Succession Law to allow a woman to take over the throne. It has been reported that Masako went through a lot of pressure from within the family to give a baby boy.
It has been reported that the Crown Princess Masako has been suffering from ‘adjustment disorder’ and ‘mild depression’ because of the pressure she is facing. The Crown Prince has accused the media outlets and the Imperial Household Agency for making her life miserable. It has been widely reported in the media that Masako has behavioral issues and that she went against the conservative demands of her family. They reported that she has personality issues with some palace staff, too. However, she has been recovering slowly with the help of her husband and doctors.
It is not just the men in the royal family who have been marrying outside, it’s even the princesses. Recently, the marriage of Princess Noriko (典子さま), the second daughter of Prince Norihito (徳仁さま), the Emperor’s cousin, took place quite extravagantly.
When a princess marries outside the royal family, she loses her imperial status. As many females get married, the royal family is shrinking. The only way the next male heir could find a wife is from the outside.
Some historians are actually arguing that the royal family is not as pure as they think it is, and that the early emperors had concubines whose children has ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne, such as Emperor Ninko (仁孝天皇), who was not born to the Empress. However, in this era of social media, an attempt to have a male child through concubines would be seen as a big issue and thus dwindle the respect for the royal family.
The Japanese constitution has never accepted that a male only should ascend the throne. It mentions that the inheritance should be dynastic, but not particularly whom. There have been many attempts to bring a notification under the Japanese Imperial House Law that a female can also become the reigning Empress. These attempts were fruitless, however, as many seem to be interested in continuing traditions rather than bringing radical changes. In the course of Japanese history, there have had been instances where females reigned for some periods of time, however, they never got married to create their female line.
These three love stories of the Japanese Royal Family are very interesting as they changed the course of Japanese royalty and public perception. They all involve commoners, who inspired many people and got a permanent place in the highly traditional Japanese Imperial House.
The question now is whether the children of these couples are going to follow in the footsteps of their parents or not. Some say they should marry whoever they want to in the future while some say they should restore the dying 2600-year-old Japanese tradition. There are even people who say the monarchy should be permanently abolished.
Many countries such as France, Greece, Nepal and others have abolished the monarchy in the process of absolute democratization. Will Japan follow these countries? As of now, there are not many vehement oppositions or military coup attempts in Japan to go against the monarchy. The Japanese monarchy is highly respected and many seem to have positive opinions about the Imperial Family. The royal family is an attraction and a symbol of Japanese unity and virtue.
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