Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako have brought a more relaxed touch to one of the world's oldest monarchies, chatting in English with foreign visitors, laughing with children and even playing with dogs.

They are the first imperial couple with university degrees, to speak several languages and to have years of experience of living abroad — when the emperor even did his own laundry.

Six months after ascending to the chrysanthemum throne, they appear to be fulfilling hopes they will make it more international and bring it closer to the lives of ordinary people.