National

Japan's Emperor and Empress celebrate 60 years of marriage ahead of abdication

Kyodo

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko marked their 60th wedding anniversary on Wednesday, with various celebratory events held during the day ahead of the Emperor’s abdication at the end of the month.

With their elder son Crown Prince Naruhito, 59, ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, the anniversary of their matrimony was the last they would celebrate during the 85-year-old Emperor’s reign.

In 1959, then-Crown Prince Akihito married Michiko Shoda, the daughter of a businessman, making her the first commoner ever to wed an heir to the Imperial throne. More than 500,000 people took to the streets to watch them pass in a horse-drawn carriage. The Emperor will step down on April 30, becoming the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in more than 200 years.

The Imperial Couple received words of congratulations Wednesday from Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, as well as other members of the Imperial family, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Imperial Household Agency staff among others.

Although the Emperor and Empress Michiko, 84, did not attend, a cross-party group of lawmakers staged a festival later in the day at the National Theatre in Tokyo to celebrate Emperor Akihito’s 30-year reign.

The event, which drew an estimated 1,800 people, was set to feature a performance of a song based on poems written by the Emperor and the Empress as well as appearances by popular musicians such as Yumi Matsutoya, Misia and folk duo Yuzu.

Film director Takeshi Kitano and Shinya Yamanaka, who won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 2012 for developing so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, were also expected to make congratulatory speeches, and Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, was set to attend.

At the festival, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “We are determined to create a bright future while keeping in our mind how their majesties, the Emperor and Empress, have constantly stayed by the people.”