TOKYO • Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko celebrated their diamond anniversary yesterday, marking six decades of a marriage that helped modernise the monarchy.
Emperor Akihito, 85, will abdicate on April 30 and be succeeded by his elder son, Crown Prince Naruhito.
"Sixty shining years of mutual support," wrote the often-staid Nikkei business daily in a pull-out on their marriage - including a photograph of Empress Michiko, 84, calmly helping the Emperor when he mixed up the pages of his speech at a recent ceremony.
The fairy-tale romance that began on a tennis court in August 1957 and captured popular imagination also led to strains for Empress Michiko, the first commoner to marry an heir to the ancient Japanese throne.
Their marriage two years later was widely portrayed as a love match, and it fanned hopes that Empress Michiko - the vibrant daughter of a wealthy businessman - would modernise the tradition-bound court.
In many ways, Empress Michiko did just that. She raised her two sons and daughter herself, even making them pack their school lunches. By tradition, royal children had been raised by wet nurses and royal helpers.
She also took the lead in a popular outreach to common folk, including the elderly, people with disabilities and the victims of disaster, often kneeling down to embrace or speak to people - a gesture that shocked conservatives but endeared her to the general public.
But the public picture was often marred by news of Empress Michiko's ill health, which commentators and insiders attributed to harsh treatment by royal courtiers and her imperial mother-in-law.
Empress Michiko has often referred to her own "sadness and anxiety".
"Living as Crown Princess and, later, Empress was not an easy position for me by any means," she said in remarks ahead of her 84th birthday last October.
Emperor Akihito has often expressed his gratitude to Empress Michiko and, on their 50th anniversary, acknowledged that he was not always "sufficiently considerate", given their different backgrounds.
Said one acquaintance: "The Empress suffered various rough times. That was natural given her position. A lot of time has passed, but I think the Emperor wonders what he should have done at those times."
The imperial couple were marking their anniversary with a series of low-key ceremonies, including formal congratulations by family and officials as well as a dinner at the Imperial Palace.