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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Get Back - A Look At Her Majesty The Empress Michiko

After reading about the death on February 13, 2018 of Denmark’s Prince Henrik, consort to Queen Margrethe, I wondered about Japan’s non-linear royal, Empress Michiko - that's her in the photo above, on the right with her husband Akihito, the Emperor of Japan.

By non-linear, I mean that she is not in line to become the leader of Japanese royalty after her husband and current husband abdicates next year, and is officially known as the Empress consort of Japan (皇后, kōgō).

So… who is Empress Michiko?

Shōda Michiko (surname first, 正田美智子) was born on October 20, 1934 in Tokyo, a commoner, and second-child to father Shōda Hidesaburō who was the president and Nisshin Flour Milling Company, and mother Soejima Fumiko (副島富美子). She has an older brother, Iwao, and a younger brother, Osamu, and a younger sister, Emiko.

With most royal levels of hierarchy, a commoner woman or man can marry into royalty, but while Denmark’s prince Henrik, and the UK’s Prince Phillip could marry their respective Queens who were the leader of the country, they were not allowed to rule as  King.

In Japan, as evidenced by the recent marriage proposal of a Japanese commoner man to a female royal Princess, she has to give up her royal status if she is to be married.

A Japanese Prince, however, could marry a commoner female without having to renounce his royal titles.

Anyhow… that’s just FYI.

Her family was well-off, and cultured, which means they probably did not use the Japanese equivalent of the word “ain’t” in their everyday language.

Michiko’s education included learning traditional Japanese, as well as Western, which included learning English.

You can read a blog I wrote (July 22, 2017) about how U.S. president Trump didn’t know she could speak English, and how she didn’t bother to do so when presented with multiple opportunities: HERE.

Along with playing the piano, she can also play the koto harp, can paint and cook, but I suppose not all at the same time, because if she did it would be more of a circus act and less about dignity.
Michiko in 1958, playing the soon-to-be classic Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino. Kidding. How would I know what's she's playing... she doesn't have any of the keys depressed.
I Call Your Name
She attended Futaba Elementary School in Kōjimachi, a neighborhood in Chiyoda, Tokyo, but had to leave school in the 4th grade—no, not because of any disciplinary problem, but rather because of Japan’s disciplinary problem, as the U.S. began bombing Japan in WWII.

Her education continued in the town of Katase, now part of the city of Fujisawa in Kanagawa-ken, in Tatebayashi, home town of the Shōda family in Gunma-ken, and in the town of Karuizawa, where Shōda had a second resort home in Nagano-ken.

When the war ended, in 1946 Michiko returned to Tokyo and finished her elementary education back at Futaba Elelmentary School in Kōjimachi.

She then went to the Sacred Heart School for junior high school, an international multicultural Catholic school in Tokyo for kindergarten and grades 1-12 for the remainder of her schooling, graduating in 1953.

If you are wondering how a Japanese girl gets to attend a Catholic school, rest assured that she and her family are Roman Catholics.

While at the University of Sacred Heart (the university version of her middle and high school), schoolmates began calling Michiko by the affectionate name of Michi (ミッチ) (pronounced as Mitchy).

It was probably a relief for her, as she had been called Temple-chan in her younger days thanks to classmates unfortunately picking up on her having curly hair with reddish hues—similar to what American global movie icon Shirley Temple had.

In 1957 Michi graduated summa cum laude with a BA in English literature. Now, if you are like me and thought that the Latin phrase was a specially earned designation, it kindda is... it simply means, however, "with the highest distinction). Summa cum laude is the highest of he three (includes magna cum laude - with great honor - and cum laude - with honor). Really, I didn't know that... it never came up during my educational process. Not even close.

The Word
Coming from a well-heeled and well-to-do family, and her being a Japanese woman and all in the 1950s, when it came time to dating, which means marriage, Michiko was forced to bow to the whims and demands of her parents, with several men being introduced to her.

At least it seems that they allowed her the right to have some choice in the matter, as no arranged marriage appears to have been introduced by them.

So, when Michiko met then Crown-prince Akihito on a tennis court at Kurauizawa, it was love all around and game set and match for them both, becoming engaged on November 27, 1958.
Crown Prince Akihiko and Mitchy - the Prince is holding a couple of tennis rackets, but surely she wasn't playing wearing that outfit!
Of course that was only after the presiding officers of the two houses of the Diet of Japan; the Chief Justice of Japan; and two members of the Imperial Family formally approved the engagement on behalf of their Crown Prince.

There was some conjecture as to whether or not the union would be allowed, as some expected the Imperial Household Agency would select a bride for the Crown Prince one the daughters of the former court nobility, or from one of the former branches of the Imperial Family.

Also, there was whole "Catholic" thing that Mitchy and her family "suffered from".

Still... she was never baptized, so while she was allowed to attend Catholic school based on her parent's religious beliefs, she was never indoctrinated in the the religion. It sounds like the situation with my kid.

Apparently Empress Kōjun (香淳皇后, Kōjun-kōgō) - the Crown Prince's mom, and the wife of Emperor Hirohito who helped run Japan during WWII, she did not care for our Mitchy at all, and was the strongest opponent to their union. I'm guessing she wasn't one of the two members of the two members of the Imperial Royal Family who gave their consent.
Empress Kōjun - she thinks you are unworthy to gaze upon her magnificence.
Obviously things worked out, as an official engagement ceremony between the two took place on January 14, 1959.

This formal and traditional Japanese engagement is known as yunio (or yui-no), and involves the two families getting together to seal the engagement with feasts and a gift exchange of symbolic presents.

It's not much of a "thing" in today's Japan, but is perhaps more often celebrated amongst the more traditional families - of which anyone associated with the royals surely is.

Traditionally, the yunio gifts are:

The gifts are typically as follows:
  • Kinpou is gift money (I couldn't find anything on this "word" however.;
  • Hakama, the skirt given to the groom, and meant to represent fidelity;
  • Naganoshi, a clam shell to represent longevity;
  • Shiraga, a white thread of hemp, meant to represent the wish that the couple grow old and gray together;
  • Konbu, dried kelp, that represents healthy children;
  • Surume, dried cuttlefish, that represents a wish for a long marriage;
  • Suehiro, a fan, represents a happy future;
  • Katsuo-bushi, is a dried bonito—a type of fish representing meaning virility, and;
  • Yanagi-daru, a cash gift used to buy sake.
It all sounds quite nice, actually, and while one need not go over the top when purchasing such items as they seem like affordable gifts, I wonder why such a tradition has fallen by the wayside in Japan. I like it. I like it a lot. But then again, that may simply be the gaijin thinking different things are cool.

It's interesting that the hakama (representing fidelity) is given to the groom, as it is presupposed that only the man is likely to stray from the sanctity of marriage.

And, rather than a dried fish (even one that is somewhat long in shape akin to a mackerel), I would have though an eel would have been more apropos.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (Life Goes On)
A pity, however, that there wasn't some sort of gift such as a wet blanket that the mother-in-law of Mitchy (the Empress) could have given, because even though her son was going to marry Mitchy, she still hated her.

Apparently, after the Empress dies in 2000, Reuters reported that Mitchy was constantly tormented and berated by her mother-in-law with comments that she wasn't good enough for her little boy.

Apparently it was so bad that Michiko began to suffer from depression.

Regardless of the Crown Prince's smother, the rest of Japan liked Michiko. Mostly.

After WWII, Japan had undergone a radical shift away from much of its traditions and had become much more democratic and modern, thanks to the influence of the U.S. I know... hard to believe considering the almost national socialistic look the country seems to be undergoing now thanks to its political leadership and followers.

Despite death threats being tossed towards Michiko Shōda's family, on April 10, 1959, a traditional shinto wedding ceremony took place, followed by a wedding procession through Tokyo attended by some 500,000 people over an 8.8 kilometer route.

Their wedding - parts of it - was the first Imperial Japanese wedding to be televised for the public, garnering an additional 15 million viewers.

As part of her admittance into the Royal Japanese family, Michiko was given a personal emblem (o-shirushi, お印) in the form of a Japanese white birch (shirakaba, 白樺).

The couple moved into Tōgū Palace (東宮御所, Tōgū-gosho), or "the East Palace of the Imperial House" in Minato, Tokyo living there until the Crown Prince became Emperor in 1989 following the death of his father the Emperor Showa.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have three children:
  • Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan (皇太子徳仁親王, Kōtaishi Naruhito Shinnō, born 23 February 1960);
  • Fumihito, Prince Akishino (秋篠宮文仁親王, Akishino-no-miya Fumihito Shinnō, born 30 November 1965);
  • Sayako, Princess Nori (紀宮清子内親王, Nori-no-miya Sayako Naishinnō, born 18 April 1969), following her marriage to urban designer Yoshiki Kuroda on 15 November 2005, Princess Nori gave up her imperial title and left the Imperial Family as required by 1947 Imperial Household Law, took the surname of her husband and became known as "Sayako Kuroda" (黒田清子, Kuroda Sayako).
Between kids one and two, in 1963 the Associated Press reported that Michiko had a planned abortion owing to what was described as the then-Princess having impaired health due to continuous rounds of official and social functions. She was apparently three-months pregnant at the time.

Glass Onion
Being a modern family, the royal couple broke with tradition on many occasions - which probably caused the Empress/mother-outlaw to hate Michiko even more, probably blaming her for the failings of her son and his refusal to follow protocol.

For one, Michiko breastfed her own children. Holy smokes! Call the cops!

Crown Princess Michiko with son Naruhito (left) and sister Nori, circa 1971 at Togu Palace in Tokyo.
Secondly, they raised their kids themselves in their own house rather than send them out for care by court chamberlains. Those bastards!

The Reuters article when describing the torment of the Empress on Mitchy said the anguish caused her to lose her voice for seven months in the 1960s and again in 1983.

Lost it, or refused to speak?

In the Spring of 2007, Mitchy suffered from mouth ulcers, nosebleeds and intestinal bleeding caused by psychological stress, according to her doctors.

Current Crown Princess Masako (daughter-in-law to Michiko) has also developed sever depression to which they attribute the pressure of being a public princess as the root cause.

When Emperor Shōwa died on January 7, 1989 Crown Prince Akihito became the 125th Emperor of Japan, while Michiko became the Empress Consort, enthroned as Emperor and Empress on  November 12, 1990. I saw that.

The official duties of the spouse of royal leader, in this case the Empress' duties are to assist her husband at events and ceremonies, both within and outside the Imperial Palace, receive official guests including state guests, and to visit the social, cultural and charitable institutions and facilities.

When her mother-in-law, the Empress Dowager Nagako died on June 16, 2000, Empress Michiko succeeded her as Honorary President of the Japanese Red Cross Society.

In 2007, the Empress performed over 300 official duties.

Her Majesty
The Empress is expected to be the embodiment of traditional values such as modesty and purity.

So what does the Empress of like to do when she isn't involved in her Royal duties? She still likes to tinkle the ivories of the piano, likes to read—though I have no idea if she's into romance, murder mysteries, historical-bio, or hard science fiction. 

She's also responsible for the Momijiyama Imperial Cocoonery, a silk farm on the Imperial grounds. She participates in the annual ceremony of harvesting silk, personally feeding silkworms with blackberries and is responsible for their care, the frames and the silk harvesting.

Empress Michiko enjoys feeding the silkworms at the Momijiyama Imperial Cocoonery on the Imperial palace grounds.
Since 1994, the Empress has been providing some of the harvested silk of the koishimaru variety (the oldest species now kept in Japan) to the Shōsōin Treasure-house in the Buddhist Tōdai-ji temple in Nara, which they use for restoration of its treasures.

You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)
While we now know that in her youth, Michiko was known as Temple-chan and Mitchy but officially as Shōda Michiko.

But after her marriage to the Crown Prince Akihito, between April 10, 1959 and January 7, 1989, her official title was "Her Imperial Highness The Crown Princess".

After her husband became Emperor, on January 7, 1989, her official title became, and is "Her Majesty The Empress".

Andrew Joseph
PS, obviously, all the subheds in the story are from The Beatles.
PPS: Image at very top: A wonderful photo of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko celebrating her 75th birthday in 2009.

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