Royal Wedding Recollections – Crown Prince Akihito & Michiko Shōda

crown prince akihito michiko shoda
(public domain)

On 10 April 1959, Michiko Shōda married the future Emperor Akihito of Japan. They had met on a tennis court in 1957, and the engagement ceremony took place on 14 January 1959.

Michiko was a commoner, and it was widely rumoured that her future mother-in-law opposed the engagement. However, the couple gained widespread public support. The New York Times reported, “The selection of a commoner to be the future Empress is a further historic step in the democratisation of the ancient Japanese throne, whose occupant was considered almost a living god before Emperor Hirohito renounced the concept of divinity in 1946.”1

After the engagement ceremony in January, the New York Times wrote, “Sacred protocols observed for centuries in the Japanese imperial family were shattered today in the ceremonies making the engagement of Crown Prince Akihito and Miss Michiko Shoda formal. These departures from custom were only the first in an expected series of drastic changes in Imperial Household rituals for the wedding of the 25-year-old future Emperor.”2

The wedding took place on 10 April as a traditional Shinto ceremony. Parts of the wedding were also televised, making it the first imperial wedding to be seen by the general public. The New York Times reported, “Crown Prince Akihito and Michiko Shoda were married in brief but very colourful Shinto rites this morning. The young couple, in brilliant court robes of a past era, entered the sacred palace shrine together promptly at 10 a.m. They emerged married, exactly seven minutes later in a solemn procession with priests, chamberlains and ladies-in-waiting. Sips of wine taken in turn had formalised the marriage. The brief ceremony changed the 2,619-year-old history of perhaps the world’s oldest throne by placing one of the common people in line to be Empress for the first time. Thousands of cheering well-wishers, many waving tiny rising sun flags, had watched the Crown Prince and his bride leave their homes for the imperial palace earlier this morning.”

They added, “The bride was in the rarely seen formal bridal array called ‘juni-hitoe’, meaning literally ‘twelve-layered garment.’ Actually, she wore nine separate pieces, five of them silk kimonos arranged so that the sleeves of each showed beneath those of the one above. Over all, she wore a flowing cloak of thick silk. The ensemble is said to weigh fifty pounds. This was shot through with a combination of threads of different colours to give a dazzling, iridescent effect. Her black hair, ordinarily worn in a modern bob, had been trained into the high, puffed classic style of court coiffure, with long, artificial tresses added at the back.”3

From the moment Michiko sipped the wine, she became the Crown Princess of Japan.

In the afternoon, Michiko changed into a white gown for the meeting with her parents-in-law to officially report the wedding. Following this meeting, the newlyweds drove through to the city of Tokyo and waved to the crowds.

In the evening, attendants placed 24 rice cakes (one for each year of Michiko’s life) in the couple’s room. These remained there for three days  as an ancient invocation of “prosperity and the blessing of the gods on a male heir.”4

  1. The New York Times
  2. The New York Times
  3. The New York Times
  4. The New York Times

About Moniek Bloks 2732 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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