In August 1957, Akihito met Michiko Shōda on a tennis court at Karuizawa near Nagano. Initially there was low enthusiasm for the relationship between the couple. Michiko Shōda was considered too low-born for the young Crown Prince and was educated in a Catholic environment. Therefore, in September 1958, she was sent away to Brussels to attend an international conference of the Alumnae du Sacré-Cœur.
The Imperial Household Council formally approved the engagement of the Crown Prince to Michiko Shōda on 27 November 1958.
It was the first time a commoner had married into the Imperial Family, breaking more than 2,600 years of tradition. The engagement ceremony took place on 14 January 1959, and the marriage on 10 April 1959.