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Japan’s royal couple mark Diamond anniversary

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TOKYO (Reuters) –Japanese Emperor Aikihito and Empress Michiko celebrated their Diamond anniversary yesterday, marking six decades of a marriage that helped modernize the monarchy.

Emperor Akihito, 85, will abdicate on April 30 and be succeeded by his elder son, Crown Prince Naruhito.

“Sixty shining years of mutual support” wrote the often-staid Nikkei business daily in a take-out on their marriage – including a photo of Empress Michiko, 84, calmly helping Emperor Akihito when he mixed up the pages of his speech at a recent ceremony.

The fairy-tale romance that began on a tennis court and captured popular imagination also led to strains for Empress Michiko, the first commoner to marry an heir to the ancient Japanese throne.

“To break with tradition in Japan is extremely difficult,” said Kazuo Oda, who was present when Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko met at a tennis match in August 1957, two years before they wed.

Their marriage, widely portrayed as a love-match, fanned hopes that Empress Michiko, the vibrant daughter of a wealthy businessman, would modernize the tradition-bound court.

In many ways, she did just that, raising her two sons and daughter herself, even making them pack their school lunches. By tradition, royal children had been raised by wet nurses and royal helpers.

She also took the lead in a popular outreach to common folk including elderly, handicapped and victims of disaster, often kneeling down to embrace or speak to people.

Emperor Akihito has often expressed his gratitude to Empress Michiko and on their 50th anniversary acknowledged he was not always “sufficiently considerate”, given their different backgrounds.

The imperial couple was marking their anniversary with a series of low-key ceremonies including formal congratulations by family and officials and a dinner at the imperial palace.

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