Japan is the head of the Imperial Family and the
traditional head of state of Japan. Under the 1947 constitution, he is
defined as "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people."
Historically, he was also the highest authority of the Shinto
religion. In Japanese, the
Emperor is called Tennō (天皇), which
translates to "heavenly sovereign". In English, the use of the term
Mikado (帝 or 御門) for the
Emperor was once common, but is now
Japan is the only head of state in the world
with the English title of "Emperor". The Imperial House of
the oldest continuing monarchical house in the world. The
historical origins of the Emperors lie in the late
Kofun period of the
3rd–7th centuries AD, but according to the traditional account of
Kojiki (finished 712) and
Nihon Shoki (finished 720),
founded in 660 BC by
Emperor Jimmu, who was said to be a direct
descendant of the sun-goddess Amaterasu. The current
Akihito. He acceded to the
Chrysanthemum Throne upon the death of his
Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito), in 1989. The Japanese government
announced in December 2017 that
Akihito will abdicate on 30 April
The role of the
Japan has historically alternated between a
largely ceremonial symbolic role and that of an actual imperial ruler.
Since the establishment of the first shogunate in 1199, the Emperors
Japan have rarely taken on a role as supreme battlefield commander,
unlike many Western monarchs. Japanese Emperors have nearly always
been controlled by external political forces, to varying degrees. In
fact, between 1192 and 1867, the shōguns, or their shikken regents in
Kamakura (1203–1333), were the de facto rulers of Japan, although
they were nominally appointed by the Emperor. After the Meiji
Restoration in 1867, the
Emperor was the embodiment of all sovereign
power in the realm, as enshrined in the
Meiji Constitution of 1889.
Since the enactment of the 1947 Constitution, he has been a ceremonial
head of state without even nominal political powers.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, the Imperial Palace has been called
Kyūjō (宮城), later Kōkyo (皇居), and is located on the former
Edo Castle in the heart of
Tokyo (the current capital of
Japan). Earlier, Emperors resided in
Kyoto (the ancient capital) for
nearly eleven centuries.
The Emperor's Birthday
The Emperor's Birthday (December 23) is a
2.2 Factional control
2.4 Territorial matters
2.6 Meiji restoration
2.7 World War II
2.8 Current constitution
2.9 Relation to Shinto
3 Addressing and naming
3.1 Origin of the title
4 Marriage traditions
5 Burial traditions
6.1 Current status
7 See also
9 External links
Unlike most constitutional monarchs, the
Emperor is not even the
nominal chief executive. Article 65 explicitly vests executive power
in the Cabinet, of which the Prime Minister is the leader. The Emperor
is also not the commander-in-chief of the
Japan Self-Defense Forces.
Japan Self-Defense Forces Act of 1954 also explicitly vests this
role with the Prime Minister.
The Emperor's powers are limited only to important ceremonial
functions. Article 4 of the Constitution stipulates that the Emperor
"shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for
in the Constitution and he shall not have powers related to
government." It also stipulates that "the advice and approval of the
Cabinet shall be required for all acts of the
Emperor in matters of
state" (Article 3). Article 4 also states that these duties can be
delegated by the
Emperor as provided for by law.
Emperor formally appoints the Prime Minister to office,
Article 6 of the Constitution requires him to appoint the candidate
"as designated by the Diet", without giving the
Emperor the right to
Article 6 of the Constitution delegates the
Emperor the following
Appointment of the Prime Minister as designated by the Diet.
Appointment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as designated by
The Emperor's other duties are laid down in article 7 of the
Constitution, where it is stated that "the Emperor, with the advice
and approval of the Cabinet, shall perform the following acts in
matters of state on behalf of the people." In practice, all of these
duties are exercised only in accordance with the binding instructions
of the Cabinet:
Promulgation of amendments of the constitution, laws, cabinet orders,
Convocation of the Diet.
Dissolution of the House of Representatives.
Proclamation of general election of members of the Diet.
Attestation of the appointment and dismissal of Ministers of State and
other officials as provided for by law, and of full powers and
credentials of Ambassadors and Ministers.
Attestation of general and special amnesty, commutation of punishment,
reprieve, and restoration of rights.
Awarding of honors.
Attestation of instruments of ratification and other diplomatic
documents as provided for by law.
Receiving foreign ambassadors and ministers.
Performance of ceremonial functions.
Regular ceremonies of the
Emperor with a constitutional basis are the
Imperial Investitures (Shinninshiki) in the
Tokyo Imperial Palace
Tokyo Imperial Palace and
Speech from the Throne
Speech from the Throne ceremony in the
House of Councillors
House of Councillors in the
National Diet Building. The latter ceremony opens ordinary and extra
sessions of the Diet. Ordinary sessions are opened each January and
also after new elections to the House of Representatives. Extra
sessions usually convene in the autumn and are opened then.
Emperor has been a symbol of continuity with the past,
the degree of power exercised by the
Emperor has varied considerably
throughout Japanese history. In the early 7th century, the
begun to be called the "Son of Heaven" (天子, tenshi, or 天子様
See also: List of Emperors of Japan
The title of
Emperor was borrowed from China, being derived from
Chinese characters and was retroactively applied to the legendary
Japanese rulers who reigned prior to the 7th–8th centuries AD.
According to the traditional account of the Nihon Shoki,
Emperor Jimmu in 660 BC. Modern historians agree that the
Emperors prior to the possible late 3rd century AD ruler known
Emperor Ōjin are legendary.
Emperor Ankō of the 5th
century AD, traditionally the 20th emperor, is the earliest generally
agreed upon historical ruler of all or a part of Japan. The reign
Emperor Kinmei (c. 509 – 571 AD), the 29th emperor, is the
first for which contemporary historiography is able to assign
verifiable dates; however, the conventionally accepted names
and dates of the early emperors were not to be confirmed as
"traditional" until the reign of
Emperor Kanmu (737–806), the 50th
sovereign of the Yamato dynasty.
Archaeological information about the earliest historical rulers of
Japan may lie within the ancient tombs known as kofun, constructed
between the early 3rd century and the early 7th century AD. However,
since the Meiji period, the
Imperial Household Agency
Imperial Household Agency has refused to
open the kofun to the public nor to archaeologists, citing their
desire not to disturb the spirits of the past Emperors. In December
Imperial Household Agency
Imperial Household Agency reversed its position and decided
to allow researchers to enter some of the kofun with no restrictions.
There have been six non-imperial families who have controlled Japanese
emperors: the Soga (530s–645), the Fujiwara (850s–1070), the Taira
(1159-1180s), the Minamoto (and Kamakura bakufu) (1192–1333), the
Ashikaga (1336–1565), and the Tokugawa (1603–1867). However, every
shogun from the Minamoto, Ashikaga, and Tokugawa families had to be
officially recognized by the Emperors, who were still the source of
sovereignty, although they could not exercise their powers
independently from the Shogunate.
The growth of the samurai class from the 10th century gradually
weakened the power of the imperial family over the realm, leading to a
time of instability. Emperors have been known to come into conflict
with the reigning shogun from time to time. Some instances, such as
Emperor Go-Toba's 1221 rebellion against the
Kamakura shogunate and
Kenmu Restoration under
Emperor Go-Daigo, show the power
struggle between the imperial court and the military governments of
Until recent centuries, Japan's territory did not include several
remote regions of its modern-day territory. The name "Nippon" came
into use only many centuries after the start of the current imperial
line. Centralized government only began to appear shortly before and
during the time of
Prince Shōtoku (572–622). The
Emperor was more
like a revered embodiment of divine harmony than the head of an actual
governing administration. In Japan, it has always been easy for
ambitious lords to hold actual power, as such positions have not been
inherently contradictory to the Emperor's position. The parliamentary
government today continues a similar coexistence with the
have various shoguns, regents, warlords, guardians, etc.
Historically the titles of Tennō in Japanese have never included
territorial designations as is the case with many European monarchs.
The position of
Emperor is a territory-independent phenomenon—the
Emperor is the Emperor, even if he has followers only in one province
(as was the case sometimes with the southern and northern courts).
From 1192 to 1867, sovereignty of the state was exercised by the
shōguns, or their shikken regents (1203–1333), whose authority was
conferred by Imperial warrant. When Portuguese explorers first came
into contact with the Japanese (see Nanban period), they described
Japanese conditions in analogy, likening the
Emperor with great
symbolic authority but little political power, to the Pope, and the
shōgun to secular European rulers (e.g., the Holy Roman Emperor). In
keeping with the analogy, they even used the term "Emperor" in
reference to the shōguns and their regents, e.g. in the case of
Toyotomi Hideyoshi, whom missionaries called "
(from Taikō and the honorific sama).
Main article: Meiji Restoration
United States Navy
United States Navy Commodore Matthew C. Perry's Black Ships
Japan to foreign trade, and the shogunate proved
incapable of hindering the "barbarian" interlopers, the
began to assert himself politically. By the early 1860s, the
relationship between the imperial court and the
Shogunate was changing
radically. Disaffected domains and rōnin began to rally to the call
of sonnō jōi ("revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians"). The
domains of Satsuma and Chōshū, historic enemies of the Tokugawa,
used this turmoil to unite their forces and won an important military
victory outside of
Kyoto against Tokugawa forces.
In 1868, imperial "restoration" was declared, and the
dissolved. A new constitution described the
Emperor as "the head of
the Empire, combining in Himself the rights of sovereignty", whose
rights included to sanction and promulgate laws, to execute them and
to exercise "supreme command of the Army and the Navy". The liaison
conference created in 1893 also made the
Emperor the leader of the
Imperial General Headquarters.
World War II
The role of the
Emperor as head of the State
Shinto religion was
exploited during the war, creating an
Imperial cult that led to
kamikaze bombers and other fanaticism. This in turn led to the
requirement in the
Potsdam Declaration for the elimination "for all
time [of] the authority and influence of those who have deceived and
misled the people of
Japan into embarking on world conquest". In State
Emperor was believed to be a
Arahitogami (a living god).
Following Japan's surrender, the Allies issued the
separating church and state within Japan.
The constitution provides for a parliamentary system of government and
guarantees certain fundamental rights. Under its terms, the
Japan is "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people" and
exercises a purely ceremonial role without the possession of
The constitution, also known as the "Constitution of Japan"
(日本国憲法, Nihonkoku-Kenpō, formerly written 日本國憲法
(same pronunciation)), "Postwar Constitution" (戦後憲法,
Sengo-Kenpō) or the "Peace Constitution" (平和憲法,
Heiwa-Kenpō), was drawn up under the Allied occupation that followed
World War II
World War II and was intended to replace Japan's previous militaristic
and quasi-absolute monarchy system with a form of liberal democracy.
Currently, it is a rigid document and no subsequent amendment has been
made to it since its adoption.
Relation to Shinto
In Japanese mythology, according to
Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, the
Emperor and his family are said to be direct descendants of the
sun-goddess Amaterasu. During World War II, the role of the
head of the
Shinto religion was exploited, which resulted in the
creation of State
Shinto and an Imperial cult. Following the end of
the Second World War, the Allies issued the
Shinto Directive which
abolished the state support for the
Shinto religion, leading to the
Humanity Declaration of the incumbent
Emperor which refuted the idea
Emperor is a living divine being, and dismissed the
importance of "myths and legends" for the Emperor's status. However,
the Emperors have continued to perform many traditional ceremonies
The Emperors traditionally had an education officer. In recent times,
Emperor Taishō had Count Nogi Maresuke,
Emperor Shōwa had
Marshal-Admiral Marquis Tōgō Heihachirō, and
Elizabeth Gray Vining
Elizabeth Gray Vining as well as Shinzō Koizumi as their tutors.
Addressing and naming
There are two Japanese words equivalent to the English word "Emperor":
tennō (天皇, "heavenly sovereign"), which is used exclusively to
refer to the
Emperor of Japan, and kōtei (皇帝, the title used for
all other foreign Emperors), which is used primarily to describe
non-Japanese Emperors. Sumeramikoto ("the Imperial person") was also
used in Old Japanese. The term tennō was used by the Emperors up
until the Middle Ages; then, following a period of disuse, it was used
again from the 19th century. In English, the term mikado (御門
or 帝), literally meaning "the honorable gate" (i.e. the gate of the
imperial palace, which indicates the person who lives in and possesses
the palace), was once used (as in The Mikado, a 19th-century
operetta), but this term is now obsolete. (Compare Sublime Porte,
an old term for the Ottoman government.)
Traditionally, the Japanese considered it disrespectful to call any
person by his given name, and more so for a person of noble rank. This
convention is only slightly relaxed in the modern age and it is still
inadvisable among friends to use the given name, use of the family
name being the common form of address. In the case of the imperial
family, it is considered extremely inappropriate to use the given
Emperor Meiji, it has been customary to have one era per
Emperor and to rename each
Emperor after his death using the name of
the era over which he presided. Prior to
Emperor Meiji, the names of
the eras were changed more frequently, and the posthumous names of the
Emperors were chosen in a different manner.
Japan giving a New Year's address to the people in 2010
Outside Japan, beginning with
Emperor Shōwa, the Emperors are often
referred to by their given names, both whilst alive and posthumously.
For example, the previous
Emperor is usually called
English, although he was never referred to as
Hirohito in Japan, and
Shōwa Tennō after his death, which is the only name that
Japanese speakers currently use when referring to him.
Emperor on the throne is typically referred to by the
title Tennō Heika (天皇陛下, "His (Imperial) Majesty the
Emperor"), Kinjō Heika (今上陛下, "His Current Majesty") or
simply Tennō, when speaking Japanese. The current
Emperor will be
Daijō Tennō (太上天皇, Retired Emperor), often shortened
to Jōkō (上皇), upon his planned retirement on 30 April 2019, and
renamed Heisei Tennō (平成天皇) after his death and will then be
referred to exclusively by that name in Japanese. Non-Japanese
speakers will continue to reference him as
Emperor Akihito. In
Japanese culture, it is considered a major faux pas to refer to a
Emperor by his posthumous name, although the posthumous name is
the same as the era, which is used in official documents.
Origin of the title
Originally, the ruler of
Japan was known as either 大和大王/大君
(Yamato-ōkimi, Grand King of Yamato), 倭王/倭国王
(Wa-ō/Wakoku-ō, King of Wa, used externally) or 治天下大王
(Ame-no-shita shiroshimesu ōkimi or Sumera no mikoto, Grand King who
rules all under heaven, used internally) in Japanese and Chinese
sources prior to the 7th century. The oldest documented use of the
word "Tennō" is on a wooden slat, or mokkan, that was unearthed in
Asuka-mura, Nara Prefecture in 1998 and dated back to the reign of
Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jitō.[clarification needed]
The current empress, Michiko
Throughout history, Japanese Emperors and noblemen appointed the
position of chief wife, rather than just keeping a harem or an
assortment of female attendants.
The Japanese imperial dynasty consistently practiced official
polygamy, a practice that only ended in the Taishō period
(1912–1926). Besides the Empress, the
Emperor could take, and nearly
always took, several secondary consorts ("concubines") of various
hierarchical degrees. Concubines were allowed also to other dynasts
(Shinnōke, Ōke). After a decree by
Emperor Ichijō, some Emperors
even had two empresses simultaneously (kōgō and chūgū are the two
separate titles for that situation). With the help of all this
polygamy, the imperial clan thus was capable of producing more
offspring. (Sons by secondary consorts were usually recognized as
imperial princes, too, and could be recognized as heir to the throne
if the empress did not give birth to an heir.)
Of the eight female Tennō (reigning empresses) of Japan, none married
or gave birth after ascending the throne. Some of them, being widows,
had produced children prior to their reigns.
In the succession, children of the empress were preferred over sons of
secondary consorts. Thus it was significant which quarters had
preferential opportunities in providing chief wives to imperial
princes, i.e. supplying future empresses.
Apparently, the oldest tradition of official marriages within the
imperial dynasty were marriages between dynasty members, even
half-siblings or uncle and niece. Such marriages were deemed to
preserve better the imperial blood or were aimed at producing children
symbolic of a reconciliation between two branches of the imperial
dynasty. Daughters of others remained concubines, until
(701–706) – in what was specifically reported as the first
elevation of its kind – elevated his Fujiwara consort Empress
Kōmyō to chief wife.
Japanese monarchs have been, as much as others elsewhere, dependent on
making alliances with powerful chiefs and other monarchs. Many such
alliances were sealed by marriages. The specific feature in
been the fact that these marriages have been soon incorporated as
elements of tradition which controlled the marriages of later
generations, though the original practical alliance had lost its real
meaning. A repeated pattern has been an imperial son-in-law under the
influence of his powerful non-imperial father-in-law.
Beginning from the 7th and 8th centuries, Emperors primarily took
women of the
Fujiwara clan as their highest wives — the most
probable mothers of future monarchs. This was cloaked as a tradition
of marriage between heirs of two kami (
Shinto deities): descendants of
Amaterasu with descendants of the family kami of the Fujiwara.
(Originally, the Fujiwara were descended from relatively minor
nobility, thus their kami is an unremarkable one in the Japanese myth
world.) To produce imperial children, heirs of the nation, with
two-side descent from the two kami, was regarded as desirable — or
at least it suited powerful Fujiwara lords, who thus received
preference in the imperial marriage market. The reality behind such
marriages was an alliance between an imperial prince and a Fujiwara
lord, his father-in-law or grandfather, the latter with his resources
supporting the prince to the throne and most often controlling the
government. These arrangements created the tradition of regents
(Sesshō and Kampaku), with these positions held only by a Fujiwara
Earlier, the Emperors had married women from families of the
government-holding Soga lords, and women of the imperial clan itself,
i.e. various-degree cousins and often even their own sisters
(half-sisters). Several imperials of the 5th and 6th centuries such as
Prince Shōtoku were children of half-sibling couples. These marriages
often were alliance or succession devices: the Soga lord ensured his
domination of a prince who would be put on the throne as a puppet; or
a prince ensured the combination of two imperial descents, to
strengthen his own and his children's claim to the throne. Marriages
were also a means to seal a reconciliation between two imperial
After a couple of centuries, Emperors could no longer take anyone from
outside such families as primary wife, no matter what the expediency
of such a marriage and power or wealth brought by such might have
been. Only very rarely did a prince ascend the throne whose mother was
not descended from the approved families. The earlier necessity and
expediency had mutated into a strict tradition that did not allow for
current expediency or necessity, but only dictated that daughters of a
restricted circle of families were eligible brides, because they had
produced eligible brides for centuries. Tradition had become more
forceful than law.
Fujiwara women were often Empresses, and concubines came from less
exalted noble families. In the last thousand years, sons of an
imperial male and a Fujiwara woman have been preferred in the
The five Fujiwara families, Ichijō, Kujō, Nijō, Konoe, and
Takatsukasa, were the primary source of imperial brides from the 8th
century to the 19th century, even more often than daughters of the
imperial clan itself. Fujiwara daughters were thus the usual empresses
and mothers of Emperors.
This restriction on brides for the
Emperor and crown prince was made
explicit in the Meiji-era Imperial House Law of 1889. A clause
stipulated that daughters of
Sekke (the five main branches of the
higher Fujiwara) and daughters of the imperial clan itself were
primarily acceptable brides.
The law was repealed in the aftermath of World War II. The present
Emperor, Akihito, became the first crown prince for over a thousand
years to marry a consort from outside the previously eligible circle.
Entrance of the
Musashi Imperial Graveyard
Musashi Imperial Graveyard in Hachiōji, Tokyo
Kofun period, so-called "archaic funerals" were held for
the dead Emperors, but only the funerary rites from the end of the
period, which the chronicles describe in more detail, are known. They
were centered around the rite of the mogari (殯), a provisional
depository between death and permanent burial.
Empress Jitō was the first Japanese imperial personage to be cremated
(in 703). After that, with a few exceptions, all Emperors were
cremated up to the Edo period. For the next 350 years, in-ground
burial became the favoured funeral custom. In 2013, the Imperial
Household Agency announced that
Akihito and Empress Michiko
would be cremated after they die.
Until 1912, the Emperors of
Japan were usually buried in Kyoto.
From the Taishō
Emperor onward, the Emperors have been buried at the
Musashi Imperial Graveyard
Musashi Imperial Graveyard in Tokyo.
Tokyo Imperial Palace
The Japanese imperial dynasty bases its position in the expression
that it has "reigned since time immemorial" (万世一系 bansei
ikkei). It is true that its origins are buried in the mists of time:
there are no records of any
Emperor who was not said to have been a
descendant of other, yet earlier Emperors. There is suspicion that
Emperor Keitai (c. 500 AD) may have been an unrelated outsider, though
the sources state that he was a male-line descendant of Emperor
Ōjin. However, his descendants, including his
successors, were according to records descended from at least one and
probably several imperial princesses of the older lineage. The
tradition built by those legends has chosen to recognize just the
putative male ancestry as valid for legitimizing his succession, not
giving any weight to ties through the said princesses.[citation
Millennia ago, the Japanese imperial family developed its own peculiar
system of hereditary succession. It has been non-primogenitural, more
or less agnatic, based mostly on rotation. Today,
Japan uses strict
agnatic primogeniture, which was adopted from Prussia, by which Japan
was greatly influenced in the 1870s.
The controlling principles and their interaction were apparently very
complex and sophisticated, leading to even idiosyncratic outcomes.
Some chief principles apparent in the succession have been:
Women were allowed to succeed (but there existed no known children of
theirs whose father did not also happen to be an agnate of the
imperial house, thus there is neither a precedent that a child of an
imperial woman with a non-imperial man could inherit, nor a precedent
forbidding it for children of empresses). However, female accession
was clearly much more rare than male.
Adoption was possible and a much used way to increase the number of
succession-entitled heirs (however, the adopted child had to be a
child of another member agnate of the imperial house).
Abdication was used very often, and in fact occurred more often than
death on the throne. In those days, the Emperor's chief task was
priestly (or godly), containing so many repetitive rituals that it was
deemed that after a service of around ten years, the incumbent
deserved pampered retirement as an honored former Emperor.
Primogeniture was not used — rather, in the early days, the imperial
house practiced something resembling a system of rotation. Very often
a brother (or sister) followed the elder sibling even in the case of
the predecessor leaving children. The "turn" of the next generation
came more often after several individuals of the senior generation.
Rotation went often between two or more of the branches of the
imperial house, thus more or less distant cousins succeeded each
Emperor Go-Saga even decreed an official alternation between
heirs of his two sons, which system continued for a couple of
centuries (leading finally to shogun-induced (or utilized) strife
between these two branches, the "southern" and "northern" Emperors).
Towards the end, the alternates were very distant cousins counted in
degrees of male descent (but all that time, intermarriages occurred
within the imperial house, thus they were close cousins if female ties
are counted). During the past five hundred years, however, probably
due to Confucian influence, inheritance by sons — but not always, or
even most often, the eldest son has been the norm.
Historically, the succession to the
Chrysanthemum Throne has always
passed to descendants in male line from the imperial lineage.
Generally, they have been males, though of the over one hundred
monarchs there have been nine women (one pre-historical and eight
Emperor on eleven occasions.
Over a thousand years ago, a tradition started that an
ascend relatively young. A dynast who had passed his toddler years was
regarded suitable and old enough. Reaching the age of legal majority
was not a requirement. Thus, a multitude of Japanese Emperors have
ascended as children, as young as 6 or 8 years old. The high-priestly
duties were deemed possible for a walking child. A reign of around ten
years was regarded a sufficient service. Being a child was apparently
a fine property, to better endure tedious duties and to tolerate
subjugation to political power-brokers, as well as sometimes to cloak
the truly powerful members of the imperial dynasty. Almost all
Japanese empresses and dozens of Emperors abdicated, and lived the
rest of their lives in pampered retirement, wielding influence behind
the scenes. Several Emperors abdicated to their entitled retirement
while still in their teens. These traditions show in Japanese
folklore, theater, literature, and other forms of culture, where the
Emperor is usually described or depicted as an adolescent.
Before the Meiji Restoration,
Japan had eleven reigns of reigning
empresses, all of them daughters of the male line of the Imperial
House. None ascended purely as a wife or as a widow of an Emperor.
Imperial daughters and granddaughters, however, usually ascended the
throne as a sort of a "stop gap" measure — if a suitable male was
not available or some imperial branches were in rivalry so that a
compromise was needed. Over half of Japanese empresses and many
Emperors abdicated once a suitable male descendant was considered to
be old enough to rule (just past toddlerhood, in some cases). Four
empresses, Empress Suiko,
Empress Kōgyoku (also Empress Saimei), and
Empress Jitō, as well as the mythical Empress Jingū, were widows of
deceased Emperors and princesses of the blood imperial in their own
right. One, Empress Genmei, was the widow of a crown prince and a
princess of the blood imperial. The other four, Empress Genshō,
Empress Kōken (also Empress Shōtoku), Empress Meishō, and Empress
Go-Sakuramachi, were unwed daughters of previous Emperors. None of
these empresses married or gave birth after ascending the throne.
Article 2 of the
Meiji Constitution (the Constitution of the Empire of
Japan) stated, "The Imperial Throne shall be succeeded to by imperial
male descendants, according to the provisions of the Imperial House
Law." The 1889
Imperial Household Law fixed the succession on male
descendants of the imperial line, and specifically excluded female
descendants from the succession. In the event of a complete failure of
the main line, the throne would pass to the nearest collateral branch,
again in the male line. If the Empress did not give birth to an heir,
Emperor could take a concubine, and the son he had by that
concubine would be recognized as heir to the throne. This law, which
was promulgated on the same day as the Meiji Constitution, enjoyed
co-equal status with that constitution.
Article 2 of the Constitution of Japan, promulgated in 1947 by
influence of the U.S. occupation administration, provides that "The
Imperial Throne shall be dynastic and succeeded to in accordance with
Imperial Household Law passed by the Diet." The Imperial Household
Law of 1947, enacted by the ninety-second and last session of the
Imperial Diet, retained the exclusion on female dynasts found in the
1889 law. The government of Prime Minister
Yoshida Shigeru hastily
cobbled together the legislation to bring the Imperial Household in
compliance with the American-written Constitution of
Japan that went
into effect in May 1947. In an effort to control the size of the
imperial family, the law stipulates that only legitimate male
descendants in the male line can be dynasts; that imperial princesses
lose their status as Imperial Family members if they marry outside the
Imperial Family; and that the
Emperor and other members of the
Imperial Family may not adopt children. It also prevented branches,
other than the branch descending from Taishō, from being imperial
princes any longer.
Main article: Line of succession to the Japanese throne
Succession is now regulated by laws passed by the National Diet. The
current law excludes women from the succession. A change to this law
had been considered until
Princess Kiko gave birth to a son.
Until the birth of Prince Hisahito, son of Prince Akishino, on
September 6, 2006, there was a potential succession problem, since
Prince Akishino was the only male child to be born into the imperial
family since 1965. Following the birth of Princess Aiko, there was
public debate about amending the current
Imperial Household Law to
allow women to succeed to the throne. In January 2005, Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi appointed a special panel composed of judges,
university professors, and civil servants to study changes to the
Imperial Household Law and to make recommendations to the government.
The panel dealing with the succession issue recommended on October 25,
2005, amending the law to allow females of the male line of imperial
descent to ascend the Japanese throne. On January 20, 2006, Prime
Junichiro Koizumi devoted part of his annual keynote speech
to the controversy, pledging to submit a bill allowing women to ascend
the throne to ensure that the succession continues in the future in a
stable manner. Shortly after the announcement that
Princess Kiko was
pregnant with her third child, Koizumi suspended such plans. Her son,
Prince Hisahito, is the third in line to the throne under the current
law of succession. On January 3, 2007, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe
announced that he would drop the proposal to alter the Imperial
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Divine right of kings
^ a b Kanʼichi Asakawa. The early institutional life of Japan: a
study in the reform of 645 A.D.. Tokyo:
Shueisha (1903), p. 25. "We
purposely avoid, in spite of its wide usage in foreign literature, the
misleading term Mikado. If it be not for the natural curiosity of the
races, which always seeks something novel and loves to call foreign
things by foreign names, it is hard to understand why this obsolete
and ambiguous word should so sedulously be retained. It originally
meant not only the Sovereign, but also his house, the court, and even
the State, and its use in historical writings causes many difficulties
which it is unnecessary to discuss here in detail. The native Japanese
employ the term neither in speech nor in writing. It might as well be
dismissed with great advantage from sober literature as it has been
for the official documents."
Japan desperate for male heir to oldest monarchy". London:
independent.co.uk. March 1, 1996. Retrieved June 5, 2010.
^ Kinsley, David (1989). The goddesses' mirror : visions of the
divine from East and West. Albany: State University of New York Press.
pp. 80–90. ISBN 9780887068355.
^ "Amaterasu". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21 October
^ Enjoji, Kaori (December 1, 2017). "
Akihito to abdicate
on April 30, 2019". CNN. Tokyo. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
^ The formal investiture of the Prime Minister in 2010, the opening of
the ordinary session of the Diet in January 2012 and the opening of an
extra session of the Diet in the autumn of 2011. The 120th anniversary
of the Diet was commemorarated with a special ceremony in the House of
Councillors in November 2010, when also the Empress and the Prince and
Princess Akishino were present.
^ Boscaro, Adriana; Gatti, Franco; Raveri, Massimo, eds. (2003).
Rethinking Japan: Social Sciences, Ideology and Thought. II. Japan
Library Limited. p. 300. ISBN 0-904404-79-X.
^ Charles Holcombe (January 2001). The Genesis of East Asia: 221 B.C.
– A.D. 907. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 198–.
^ Kelly, Charles F. "
Kofun Culture", Japanese Archaeology. 27 April
^ Titsingh, pp. 34–36; Brown, pp. 261–262; Varley, pp. 123–124.
^ Hoye, Timothy. (1999). Japanese Politics: Fixed and Floating Worlds,
p. 78; excerpt, "According to legend, the first Japanese emperor was
Jinmu. Along with the next 13 emperors, Jinmu is not considered an
actual, historical figure. Historically verifiable Emperors of Japan
date from the early sixth century with Kinmei.
^ Aston, William. (1896). Nihongi, pp. 109.
^ "The Ritual Ceremonies of the Imperial Palace - The Imperial
Household Agency". www.kunaicho.go.jp. Retrieved 22 September
^ "List of main ritual ceremonies of the Imperial Palace - The
Imperial Household Agency". www.kunaicho.go.jp. Retrieved 22 September
^ Screech, (2006). Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and
Japan, 1779–1822, p. 232 n4.
^ a b François Macé. "The Funerals of the Japanese Emperors".
^ "Emperor, Empress plan to be cremated". The
Japan Times. Retrieved
November 21, 2013.
^ Seidensticker, Edward. (1990).
Tokyo Rising, p. 20.
^ Martin, Alex, "Imperial law revisited as family shrinks, Emperor
Japan Times, December 16, 2011, p. 3.
Japan to drop plan to allow female monarch". USA Today.
McLean, VA: Gannett. The Associated Press. January 3, 2007.
ISSN 0734-7456. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
Asakawa, Kan'ichi (1903). The Early Institutional Life of Japan.
Tokyo: Shueisha. OCLC 4427686; see online, multi-formatted,
full-text book at openlibrary.org
Screech, Timon (2006). Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh
and Japan, 1779–1822. London: RoutledgeCurzon.
ISBN 0-7007-1720-X; ISBN 978-0-7007-1720-0.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name
needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University
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