Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko at the Imperial Palace (Provided by the Imperial Household Agency)

Although not by his side, Empress Michiko was very much in Emperor Akihito's heart as he choked up with emotion when he mentioned his wife at a news conference to mark his 85th birthday.

Overcome by a sense of gratitude to Michiko for her steadfast support, Akihito had to interrupt his speech several times as he looked back on his life.

“The empress has always been at my side, understood my thoughts, and supported me in my position and official duties as I performed my duties as the emperor,” Akihito said, calling her his “fellow traveler.”

He also said she also showed “great devotion” toward people related to him and raised their three children with “deep affection.”

Michiko accompanied her husband to the venue on Dec. 20 and waited in a separate room as he gave the news conference, ahead of his birthday on Dec. 23, according to the Imperial Household Agency.

Likening the course of his life to a journey, the emperor said Michiko, who was a commoner before their marriage, “chose to walk this path with me.”

His classmates recalled that since he was growing up, Akihito has restrained himself from expressing emotion as the future emperor.

But the news conference marking his birthday, his last as emperor before his scheduled abdication on April 30, was different. He was often overcome with emotion, particularly when he spoke about his wife's support.

That also was the case when Akihito spoke about the 50th anniversary of their marriage in April 2009, when he held a news conference.

Akihito, glancing at Michiko who was at his side, said in a choking voice: “I believe that I am what I am today as a result of many things I have absorbed since opening that window called marriage. I am greeting our 50th wedding anniversary with true feelings of appreciation and gratitude.”

The couple will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on April 10.

Before he concluded his Dec. 20 news conference, the emperor also said, “I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart the many people who accepted and continued to support me as the symbol of the state.”