KARUIZAWA, Nagano Prefecture--Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are taking their summer break in this famed central Japan resort town where they first met and famously played out their courtship on the tennis courts 61 years ago.

It will be their last visit to Karuizawa as emperor and empress before Akihito abdicates the Chrysanthemum Throne in favor of his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, at the end of April.

The couple arrived Aug. 22, and, in longstanding tradition, a photo studio established here in 1906, hopes its photographers will capture candid shots of the pair relaxing.

Since its founding, Tsuchiya Shashinten has been recording the private side of vacationing imperial family members at this posh resort town.

Akihito was crown prince when he first met Michiko Shoda, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist and the first commoner to marry into the imperial family.

The couple often returned to Karuizawa after their marriage.

“We feel honored that Karuizawa is where they met,” said Natsuoko Machida, 81, wife of Yasuhiko, also 81 and the third-generation owner of Tsuchiya photo studio. “Other holiday makers are also looking forward to seeing them, and we are often asked at this time of year when they are coming.”

The whirlwind courtship and marriage of Akihito and Michiko created a tennis boom in Karuizawa, and new courts were set up. Whenever the couple volleyed across the net, crowds gathered to watch their game.

The photo studio is located close to the tennis court where the couple met.

Studio photographers have been capturing the changing townscape of Karuizawa since the late Meiji Era (1868-1912). The interior of the studio is crammed with photos of imperial family members relaxing with local residents and holiday makers.

Among the images are ones of Akihito and Michiko at the tennis court before their engagement and the couple with Crown Prince Naruhito as a boy getting off the train at Karuizawa Station.

The gallery includes some rare shots, such as one of the young Emperor Showa, then prince regent and known as Hirohito, riding a horse, and Akihito as crown prince wearing glasses and reading a book at a bookshop in the town.

The bookshop photo was snapped by Yukio Kobayashi, the second-generation owner of Tsuchiya photo studio, who was Machida’s uncle. Machida said Kobayashi took it after asking Akihito’s attendant for permission.

“In those days, he (Akihito) walked around Karuizawa rather freely,” Machida said.

She recalled that he used to stop by a cafe or eat curry and rice with friends after playing tennis.

Yasuhiko is hoping to capture their last summer holiday here as emperor and empress.

“The town of Karuizawa has shared its history with imperial family members,” said Natsuko. “I wish their majesties have a relaxed time here and can reflect on their memories of Karuizawa.”