Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Imperial Household of Japan
The imperial household of Japan (also referred to as the imperial family or kōshitsu (皇室)) refers those members of the extended family of the reigning Emperor of Japan who undertake official and public duties, as well as their minor children. Under the present Constitution of Japan, the emperor is the symbol of the state and unity of the people. The other members of the imperial family perform ceremonial and social duties, but have no role in the affairs of government.
The Japanese monarchy is the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world. The imperial household recognizes one hundred twenty-five legitimate monarchs since the ascension of Jimmu Tennō. Most historians regard the first fourteen emperors (Jimmu to Chuai) as legendary figures. The reigning emperor, Akihito, is the one hundred twenty-fifth monarch in the official chronology.
Current members of the imperial family
The 1947 Imperial Household Law defines the imperial household as: the empress (kōgō 皇后), the empress dowager (kōtaigō 皇太后), the grand empress dowager (tai-kōtaigō 太皇太后), the crown prince (kōtaishi 皇太子) and his consort, the imperial grandson who is heir apparent (kōtaison 皇太孫) and his consort, the shinnō (親王) and their consorts, the naishinnō (内親王), the ō (王) and their consorts, and the nyoō (女王). The legitimate children and male line grandchildren of an emperor are shinnō (imperial princes) in the case of males and naishinnō (imperial princesses) in the case of females. More distant male line descendants are ō (princes) or nyoō (princesses). See below for more information on these titles.
After the removal of eleven families from the imperial household in October 1947, the official membership of the imperial family has effectively been limited to the male line descendants of the Taishō Emperor, excluding females who married outside the imperial family and their descendants. There are presently twenty-two members of the imperial family. Their personal names appear in parentheses:
- His Majesty the Emperor (Akihito) was born at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on 23 December 1933, the elder son and fifth child of the Shôwa Emperor and Empress Kojun (Nagako). He was married on 10 April 1959 to Her Majesty the Empress (Michiko). The Empress, formerly Miss Shoda Michiko, was born in Tokyo on 24 October 1934, the eldest daughter of the late Mr. Shoda Hidesaburo, president and honorary chairman of Nisshin Flour Miling Company. Emperor Akihito succeeded his father as emperor on 7 January 1989.
- His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince (Naruhito), the eldest son of the Emperor and the Empress, was born at the Tsugo Palace in Tokyo on 23 February 1960. He became heir apparent upon his father's ascension to the throne. Crown Prince Naruhito married on 6 May 1993 to Miss Owada Masako. Her Imperial Highness the Crown Princess (Masako) was born on 6 December 1963, the daughter of Hisashi Owada, former vice minister of foreign affairs and former permanent representative of Japan to the United Nations. The Crown Prince and Crown Princess have one daughter, Princess Aiko, who was born on 1 December 2001 and who holds the childhood title Princess Toshi (Toshi no miya ).
- His Imperial Highness Prince Akishino (Fumihito ), the Emperor's second son, was born on 11 November 1965. His childhood title was Prince Aya (Aya no miya ). He received the title Prince Akishino (Akishino no miya ) and permission to start a new branch of the imperial family upon his marriage to Miss Kawashima Kiko on 29 June 1990. Her Imperial Highness Princess Akishino (Kiko) was born on 11 September 1966, the daughter of Dr. Kawashima Tatsuhiko, professor of economics at Gakushuin University. Prince and Princess Akishino have two daughters: Princess Mako (born 23 October 1991) and Princess Kako (born 29 December 1994).
- Her Imperial Highness Princess Sayako, the third child and only daughter of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, was born on 18 April 1969. Her childhood title is Princess Nori (Nori no miya). On 30 December 2004, the Imperial Household Agency announced the engagement of Princess Sayako to Mr. Kuroda Yoshiki, a staff member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and a longtime friend of Prince Akishino. The wedding will take place in early autumn 2005. Upon marriage, Princess Sayako will leave the Imperial Family, taking the surname of her husband.
- His Imperial Highness Prince Hitachi (Masahito) was born on 28 November 1935, the second son and sixth child of the Emperor Shôwa (Hirohito) and Empress Kojun (Nagako). His childhood title was Prince Yoshi (Yoshi no miya). He received the title Prince Hitachi (Hitachi no miya) and permission to set up a new branch of the imperial family on 1 October 1964, the day after his wedding. Her Imperial Highness Princess Hitachi (Hanako), was born on 19 July 1940, the daughter of late former Count Tsugaru Yoshitaka. Prince and Princess Hitachi have no children.
- His Imperial Highness Prince Mikasa (Takahito) was born on 2 December 1915, the fourth son of Emperor Taisho and Empress Teimei (Sadako). He is the surviving brother of Emperor Shôwa and the surviving parternal uncle of Emperor Akihito. His childhood title was Prince Sumi (Sumi no miya). He received the title Prince Mikasa (Mikasa no miya) and permission to start a new branch of the imperial family on 2 December 1935. He married on 22 October 1941. Her Imperial Highness Princess Mikasa (Yoriko) was born on 6 June 1923, the second daughter of the late Viscount Takagi Masanori. Prince and Princess Mikasa have two daughters and three sons. Their youngest son, Prince Takamado (Norihito), is deceased.
- His Imperial Highness Prince Tomohito of Mikasa is the eldest son of Prince and Princess Mikasa and a first cousin of Emperor Akihito. He is also heir apparent to his father's title, Mikasa no miya. He was born on 5 January 1946. Prince Tomohito was married Miss Aso Nobuko on 7 November 1980. Her Imperial Highness Princess Tomohito of Mikasa was born on 9 April 1955, the daughter of the late Mr. Aso Takakichi, chairman of Aso Cement Co. and his wife, Kazuko, a daughter of former prime minister Yoshida Shigeru. Prince and Princess Tomohito of Mikasa have two daughters: Princess Akiko (born 20 December 1981) and Princess Yoko (born 25 October 1983).
- His Imperial Highness Prince Katsura (Yoshihito) is the second son of Prince and Princess Mikasa and a first cousin of Emperor Akihito. He was born on 11 February 1948. Originally known as Prince Yoshihito of Mikasa, he received the title Prince Katsura (Katsura no miya) and authorization to start a new branch of the imperial family on 1 January 1988.
- Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado (Hisako) is the widow of His Imperial Highness Prince Takamado (Norihito) (born 29 December 1954, died 21 November 2002), the third son of Prince and Princess Mikasa and a first cousin of Emperor Akihito. The princess was born 10 July 1953, the daughter of Mr. Tottori Shigejiro. She married the prince on 6 December 1984. Originally known as Prince Norihito of Mikasa, he received the title Prince Takamado (Takamado no miya) and permission to start a new branch of the imperial family on 1 December 1984. Princess Takamado has three daughters: Princess Tsuguko (born 6 March 1986), Princess Noriko (born 21 July 1988), and Princess Ayako (b. 15 September 1990).
Living former members of the imperial family
Under the terms of the 1947 Imperial Household Law, naishinnō (imperial princesses) and nyoō (princesses) lose their titles and membership in the imperial family upon marriage, unless they marry the Emperor or another member of the imperial family. Three of the five daughters of Emperor Shōwa and the two daughters of Prince Mikasa left the imperial family upon marriage, taking the surnames of their husbands. (The eldest daughter of Emperor Shōwa married the eldest son of Prince Higashikuni Naruhiko in 1943. The Higashikuni family lost its imperial status along with the other collateral branches of the imperial household in October 1947). The living former imperial princesses (whose personal names are in parentheses) are:
- Mrs. Ikeda Takamasa (Atsuko), born 7 March 1931, fourth daughter of Emperor Shōwa and surviving elder sister of Emperor Akihito.
- Mrs. Shimazu Hisanaga (Takako), born 2 March 1939, fifth daughter and youngest child of Emperor Shōwa and younger sister of Emperor Akihito.
- Mrs. Konoe Tadateru (Yasuko), born 26 April 1944, eldest daughter and eldest child of Prince and Princess Mikasa.
- Mrs. Sen Soshitsu (Masako), born 23 October 1951, second daugther and fourth child of Prince and Princess Mikasa.
In addition to these former princesses, there are also descendants of the eleven cadet branches of the dynasty (Asaka, Fushimi, Higashi-Fushimi, Higashi-kuni, Kan'in, Kaya, Kitashirakawa, Kuni, Nashimoto, Takeda, and Yamashina) that left the imperial household in October 1947.
Historically, the succession to Japan's Chrysanthemum Throne has generally passed to male descendants in the imperial lineage. In part, the Japanese imperial dynasty owes its longevity to the use of concubines, a practice that only ended in the Taishō period (1912-1926). The Japanese monarchy also relied on the specially designated collateral lines or shinnōke (shinnō houses). If the imperial household failed to produce an heir, one of the shinnōke could provide the future emperor. There were four such collateral lines in the Edo period: Fushimi, Katsura, Arisugawa, and Kan'in. Emperor Kōkaku (reigned 1780-1817), the lineal descendant of all subsequent emperors, was a scion of the Kan'in house. The Katsura and Arisugawa houses died out in 1881 and 1913, respectively. A scion of the Fushimi house succeeded to the Kan'in house in 1884. The Fushimi house was the progenitor of nine other cadet branches (ōke) of the imperial family during the Meiji period. It and its offshoots were reduced to commoner status in 1947.
Before the Meiji Restoration, Japan had eight female tennō or reigning empresses. Imperial daughters and granddaughters, however, only ascended the throne as a "stop gap" measure. Each abdicated once a suitable male descendant in the male line of imperial descendants became available. Three empresses regnant, Suiko, Kōgyoku, and Jitō, were widows of deceased emperors and princesses of the blood royal in their own right. One, Gemmei, was the wife of a crown prince and a princess of the blood royal. The other four, Genshō, Kōken (Shōtoku), Meishō and Go-Sakuramachi, were the unwed daughters of previous emperors. None of theses empresses gave birth or married after ascending the throne.
Article 2 of the 1889 Meiji Constitution (or 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, the 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 provides that "The Imperial Throne shall be dynastic and succeeded to in accordance with the Imperial Household Law passed by the Diet." The Imperial Household Law of 16 January 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 and princess 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.
There is a potential succession crisis since no male child has been born into the imperial family since Prince Akishino in 1965. Following the birth of Princess Aiko, there was some public debate about amending the Imperial Household Law to allow women to succeed to the throne. In January 2005 Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro appointed a special panel comprised of judges, university professors, and civil servants to study changes to the Imperial Household Law and to make recommendations to the government. One of the options under consideration would be to allow females in the male line of imperial descent to succeed to the throne.
Currently, the order of succession is as follows:
- His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Naruhito
- His Imperial Highness Prince Akishino (Fumihito)
- His Imperial Highness Prince Hitachi (Masahito), the current Emperor's brother
- His Imperial Highness Prince Mikasa (Takahito), the current Emperor's elderly uncle
- His Imperial Highness Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, Prince Mikasa's first son
- His Imperial Highness Prince Katsura (Yoshihito), Prince Mikasa's second son
After that, the succession is unclear. Except for Prince Mikasa, none of the princes in the line have sons. Crown Prince Naruhito has a daughter (Aiko), Prince Akishino has two daughters (Mako and Kako), and Prince Hitachi is childless. Prince Tomohito of Mikasa has two daughters (Akiko and Yōko), Prince Katsura is childless, and the late Prince Takamado had three daughters (Tsuguko, Noriko, and Ayako).
History of titles
Ō (王) is a title (commonly translated Prince) given to male members of the Japanese Imperial Family who do not have the higher title of shinnō. The female equivalent is nyoō (女王). Ō can also be translated as "king". The origin of this double meaning is a copying of the Chinese pattern. Unlike in China, however, ō was only used for Imperial Family members. Interestingly, "queen" is joō, using the same characters as nyoō.
Historically, any male member of the Imperial Family was titled ō by default, with shinnō (親王) and its female equivalent naishinnō (内親王) being special titles granted by the Emperor. After the Meiji Restoration, the difference between ō and shinnō were altered. A shinnō or naishinnō was a legitimate Imperial Family member descended from an Emperor down to the great grandchild. The term "legitimate Imperial Family" excludes anyone not connected by a direct male line descent, as well as the descendants of anyone who renounced their membership in the Imperial Family, or were expelled from the Imperial Family. Shinnō also included the heads of any of the shinnōke. A law which never had an opportunity to be enacted also stated that if the head of a shinnōke succeeded to the Chrysanthemum Throne, that his brothers would acquire the title of shinnō, as well as their descendants (down to the grandchildren?). The Emperor could also specially grant the title of shinnō to any ō
After 1947, the law was changed so that shinnō only extended to the grandchildren of an Emperor. The Imperial Family was also drastically pruned, disestablishing the ōke and shinnōke. The consort of an ō or shinnō adds the suffix -hi (妃) to ō or shinnō.
- Yamashina (extinct)
- Kachō or Kwachō (extinct)
- Higashifushimi (extinct)
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