The Japanese Imperial family is the oldest hereditary monarchy in the world. The family’s lineage dates back to the sixth century BC, though the title of Tenno (emperor) or Sumera-Mikoto (heavenly sovereign) was assumed by rulers in the sixth or seventh century and has been used since. The family crest (above) is the kiku, or chrysanthemum.
The role of the Emperor (and occasionally the Empress – there have been 8 to date) has varied in importance. Considered a divine being until the end of World War II, the postwar Constitution made him the “Symbol of the state”. He plays a largely ceremonial part in the life of the nation.
Emperor Akihito (Heisei), who acceded the throne on January 7, 1989, upon the death of his father, the Emperor Hirohito (posthumously Emperor Showa), was born in Tokyo on December 23, 1933 (this date is now a national holiday). He graduated from Gakushuin University, the favoured institute for all royals, in 1956. In 1959, he married Shoda Michiko (1934~ ) a valedictorian graduate in English Literature of Tokyo’s University of the Sacred Heart (Seishin Jyoshi Daigaku).
They have two sons and a daughter whom they raised themselves, contrary to imperial tradition. The royal couple have traveled extensively around the world and have many interests, especially of sports. Their shared love of tennis is well known, since they first met on a tennis court. To watching the Empress in particular speak is to see the epitome of idealized Japanese womanhood. Her voice is incredibly soft, her face almost frozen in a semi-smile and her manner exudes poise and refinement. A far cry indeed from Japan’s aggresive ‘obaasans’ or Shibuya ‘gyals’!