Japan's emperor, empress mark 50th anniversary
Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary as the media hailed ways in which they have adapted the world's oldest monarchy to modern times.
In the half century since they married, Japan has emerged from the aftermath of World War II and US occupation to become Asia's economic powerhouse, and the Chrysanthemum Throne has changed along with the times.
While Akihito's father Emperor Hirohito was once worshipped as a living demigod, Akihito and Michiko have tried to be seen as an "ordinary couple" and narrowed the distance between the palace and the people.
Michiko, educated at a Catholic university, was the first commoner in modern times to marry into Japan's imperial family and the first empress to raise her children herself, famously making them "bento" lunch boxes to take to school.
Now 74, she recalled how in the early years, cloistered behind palace walls, "my heart was filled with anxiety and insecurity," but she said now "it feels like a dream to celebrate the golden wedding day by his majesty's side."
Newspapers praised the couple's pilgrimages to former war-ravaged areas to pray for peace, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the sites of the US atomic bombings that led to Japan's World War II surrender.
They also recalled the imperial couple's visits to the city of Kobe after the 1995 earthquake, when both knelt down before survivors -- a stunning scene in a country where the monarch never spoke in public until 1945.
The golden wedding was to be marked Friday in ceremonies at Tokyo's Imperial Palace, including an afternoon tea party with 101 couples invited from across Japan who are also marking their golden wedding anniversaries.
Emperor Akihito, 75, told a press conference this week that "it is with a heavy heart that I receive these felicitations amidst the prevailing severe economic situation that is greatly affecting the lives of the people."
He also said the couple had long ago changed palace rules "to allow us to speak with all of the invited guests," such as recipients of special awards.
"Although it is only for a brief moment, this change has given us the opportunity to speak directly to all of the recipients... making the event something that the empress and I also get to enjoy."
Akihito is the 125th emperor in a myth-shrouded lineage starting with legendary Jimmu, a descendant of sun goddess Amaterasu, in the 7th century BC.
His father, Hirohito, was Japan's absolute ruler during World War II and only renounced his divinity after Japan's surrender. He died in 1989.
Akihito met Michiko Shoda, a flour magnate's daughter, on the tennis court of an upscale resort. For their 1959 wedding they rode through Tokyo in a horse-drawn carriage as half a million cheering people lined the streets.
Neither the emperor nor the empress recalled the exact words he used to propose to her more than 50 years ago, they said.
"As for the exact words that I used to propose marriage, I recall that we spoke over the telephone many times before the empress finally accepted," the emperor told the press conference.
"I would not say that it was anything as simple as a one-line proposal."