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POSTED: Friday, July 10, 2009

Akihito took the throne as the 125th emperor of Japan on Nov. 12, 1990. His ancestors had been revered as demigods with their lineage reputedly stretching back more than 2,000 years to the origins of the nation.



After Japan's defeat in World War II, the postwar constitution defined the emperor simply as “;the symbol of the state and the unity of the people,”; deriving his position from “;the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power.”;



Emperor Akihito plays the cello and Empress Michiko plays the piano. The imperial couple enjoys regular nature walks through the lush gardens of Tokyo's Imperial Palace in central Tokyo, where a moat surrounds 280 acres of imperial grounds.



The emperor plays a ceremonial role in appointing the prime minister and chief justice of the Supreme Court, as well as convoking the National Diet.

He also leads traditional Shinto rituals, and plants and harvests rice in a paddy on the palace grounds each year.

Empress Michiko injured her knee during a tennis game in February when she took to the court after a long absence, and is still recovering. She and her husband met at a tennis match in a resort town.



To make it easy on foreign guests who are not accustomed to bowing, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko reach out to shake their hands.

“;I think it is very gracious of them,”; said Siegfried Ramler, senior adjunct fellow at the East-West Center. “;We all know the custom in Japan is not to shake hands, especially not with the emperor and empress. Instead you bow. But foreigners don't know how to bow.”;



Emperor Akihito is an authority on goby, a type of fish, following the lead of his father, Emperor Hirohito, who loved marine biology. Akihito has written dozens of scientific papers and contributed to academic books.

Empress Michiko, who was valedictorian of her class at Sacred Heart University in Tokyo, wrote a children's book, “;Hajimete no Yamanobori”; (”;My First Mountain”;).

Fluent in English, she also translated two volumes of children's poetry.

Japan's National Sports Games for the Disabled were launched in 1965 with strong encouragement from then-Crown Prince Akihito. Crown Princess Michiko created an annual prize for outstanding work in the care of disabled children.



Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko's only daughter, Sayako, gave up her title as princess when she married Yoshiki Kuroda, a government employee, in 2005.



How to eat a cherry during an imperial audience? Scholarship recipient Christine Yano took her cue from the emperor and empress when they were served fresh cherries at the palace.

“;You have a little paper cone cup, and you discretely spit the pit into the cup,”; she chuckled. “;I learned to eat a cherry royal style.”;


Compiled by Susan Essoyan