Emperor Akihito, formally enthroned Monday, is a modern-minded man shackled by one of the world's most tradition-bound jobs.

He earned the soubriquet "salaryman monarch" - the Japanese equivalent of "white-collar worker" - because of his efforts to lead a normal family life within the confines of the centuries-old imperial system.Now 56, with his longish hair iron-gray, Akihito broke imperial precedent when he became the first heir-apparent to marry a commoner. He has encouraged his three children to live like ordinary Japanese.

After Japan's defeat in World War II, his father Hirohito renounced the imperial family's claim to divine status, relegating the emperor to the role of symbol of the state and the unity of the Japanese people.

On his accession to the throne in January 1989, there was speculation Akihito would seek to take the reform process further. After all, he once said, "Centuries-old traditions of the imperial family must alter to meet social changes."

After nearly two years in the job, though, it seems the weight of tradition - as personified by the austere Imperial Household Agency - has kept change to a strict minimum.

In fact this cadre of ultra-conservative courtiers has succeeded in imposing its views of how this month's enthronement rites were staged.

Despite strong criticism from liberals who say this violates the separation of state and religion, the court obtained state funds to put on elaborate Shinto ceremonies 10 days after Monday's public ceremonies.

The Household Agency also succeeded in excluding commercial television networks from coverage of the enthronement, handing exclusive rights to the public network, seen as less likely to use controversial shots.

As crown prince, Akihito seemed to embody Japan's new national calling - to internationalize and to find a way to blend Japan's ancient traditions and values with its modern role as a world leader.

He began to raise the "Chrysanthemum Curtain" which had hitherto shrouded the imperial family and sought to demonstrate a common touch.

In 1986, he ordered his family's car for the first time to stop at traffic lights, although police soon squashed the habit, arguing security risks.

The family also took its first ride on a commuter train, albeit in a carriage emptied of other passengers.

The prince, according to ancient custom, was taken from his parents at an early age and raised by chamberlains in a separate palace.

But in post-war democratic Japan, his educational horizons were widened to include subjects closed to his forebears.

In 1946, while at a special school in Tokyo for the nobility, he studied English with an American teacher, Elizabeth Gray Vining, who was invited to Japan by the emperor for that purpose.

In November 1952, Prince Akihito was formally invested as heir to the throne in a ceremony that broke the tradition of centuries. The event was held in public.

The following year, Akihito toured 14 countries in Europe and America as the emperor's representative.

His marriage to a commoner in 1959 broke another imperial precedent but was hailed by most Japanese as a symbol of the new post-war democratic Japan.

The sports-loving prince courted Michiko Shoda, daughter of a flour-making industrialist, at a tennis club in the fashionable mountain resort of Karuizawa, northwest of Tokyo. He won her consent by telephone.

Later, he continued to defy precedent by insisting his children remain at home and not be taken from the palace as babies.

He sent his eldest son, Prince Naruhito (then known as Hiro), to Britain in 1983 to study at Oxford University, the first heir to the Japanese throne ever to attend school abroad. His second son also studied at Oxford before returning to Japan this year to marry a commoner.

When he is not engaged in official duties, Akihito still likes to relax by playing tennis. Like his father, he is also an expert marine biologist.