Emperor Akihito's "love match" with Michiko Shoda won over Japan and created the modern image of the royal family

Emperor Akihito will be abdicating the throne April 30, the first to ever do so in 200 years. Here's the story behind his wedding.


                            Emperor Akihito's "love match" with Michiko Shoda won over Japan and created the modern image of the royal family

During the late 1950s, royal wedding fever captured Japan as the then-crown prince Akihito had fallen madly in love with literature graduate Michiko Shoda whom he had met while playing tennis in 1957. 

The encounter came to be known as the "love match". The relationship was a huge controversy as Shoda was a commoner and their wedding changed a 2,000-year-old tradition. The development and growth of mass media helped to enhance and boost the family's popularity which changed the very way the royal family shaped its public image. 

Akihito and Empress Michiko Shoda (Source: Getty Images)

Several media outlets including Josei Jishin shared many pictures of Shoda. As reported by CNN, one of the reporters, Yukiya Chikashige, who has followed the royal family for three decades shared: "A 'Mitchi boom' exploded nationwide. She was smart, beautiful and good at sports. Her popularity was like that of Meghan's, Catherine's or even Princess Diana's. Her image was similar to Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn's character) in 'Roman Holiday.'"

"Japanese women adored her -- her hairstyle, fashion, accessories, the way she spoke. So sales of TV sets shot up because everyone wanted to see them wed," Chikashige said. Former TV producer Shigeo Suzuki, who had overseen the coverage of the wedding in 1959 shared, "Everyone was enraptured by this romance of the century."

Crown Prince Akihito of Japan and his fiancee Miss Michiko Shoda play tennis at the Tokyo Lawn Tennis Club, on December 6, 1958 in Tokyo, Japan. This is the first time they have been photographed together since the announcement of their engagement (Source: Getty Images)

"The country was coming out of the shadows of defeat in World War II and was working hard to create the image of a new Japan. It was at the beginning of an economic boom, material and electronic products were entering households, and all of this coincided with the prince's marriage," Suzuki added. 

A tramcar decorated with lights to celebrate the royal wedding of Crown Prince Akihito of Japan and Michiko Shoda (Source: Getty Images)

Suzuki had set up around 12 cameras to capture the wedding even though TV sets had only hit the country 6 years before. The event marked one of the first times when moving cameras were mounted on dollies and used. Suzuki shared, "There weren't many TV sets yet, so television came behind newspapers, radio, and magazines. But the wedding changed that."

More than half a million people attended the parade while around 15 million people tuned in to watch the wedding live. Both Akihito and Shoda used their public roles to build a new and modern image for the royal family. Chikashige revealed that when there were photograph opportunities, cameras were invited to get closer shots and better angles. 

Crown Prince (later Emperor) of Japan, Akihito and Michiko Shoda (later Empress Michiko) driving through Tokyo after their wedding at Tokyo Imperial Palace, 10th April 1959 (Source: Getty Images)

 

Chikashige said, "They (the couple) wanted to show they were not reigning, but rather, they were just like us. Thanks to these pictures of the prince and princess, the image of the imperial family gradually changed from one of reverence to one of love and respect. They became a model for modern, Westernized lifestyles at a time when Japan was moving away from the destruction of war and into a new era."

Crown Prince Naruhito (2nd from L) of Japan and his wife Crown Princess Masako (2nd from R) pose with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko after their wedding at the Imperial Palace (Source: Getty Images)

The now 85-year-old Emperor will be ending his three-decade-long reign on Tuesday as he will be abdicating the throne, the first one to do so in over 200 years. His son, the Crown Prince Naruhito will be taking over.