Imperial House of Japan

For the administration of the Imperial household, see Imperial Household Agency.
Imperial House of Japan
Country Japan
Titles Emperor of Japan
Empress of Japan
Regent of Japan
Crown Prince
Crown Princess
Founded 11 February 660 BC[1]
Founder Jimmu[1]
Current head Akihito
Ethnicity Japanese
Cadet branches House of Akishino
House of Hitachi
House of Mikasa
House of Takamado

The Imperial House of Japan (皇室 kōshitsu, "Imperial House"), also referred to as the Imperial Family and the Yamato dynasty, comprises those members of the extended family of the reigning Emperor of Japan who undertake official and public duties. Under the present Constitution of Japan, the Emperor is "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people". Other members of the imperial family perform ceremonial and social duties, but have no role in the affairs of government. The duties as an Emperor are passed down the line to their children and so on.

The Japanese monarchy is the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world. The imperial house recognizes 125 monarchs beginning with the legendary Emperor Jimmu (traditionally dated to February 11, 660 BC) and continuing up to the current emperor, Akihito; see its family tree.

Historical evidence for the first 29 emperors is marginal by modern standards, but there is firm evidence for the hereditary line since Emperor Kinmei ascended the throne 1500 years ago.

List of current members

The Imperial Family on the occasion of the Emperor's Birthday at the Tokyo Imperial Palace in 2005
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Article 5 of the Imperial Household Act (皇室典範 Kōshitsu Tenpan) defines the imperial family (皇族) as the Empress (皇后 kōgō); the Empress dowager (皇太后 kōtaigō); the Grand empress dowager (太皇太后 tai-kōtaigō); the Emperor's legitimate sons and legitimate grandsons in the legitimate male-line (親王 shinnō), and their consorts (親王妃 shinnōhi); the Emperor's unmarried legitimate daughters and unmarried legitimate granddaughters in the legitimate male-line (内親王 naishinnō); the Emperor's other male descendants in the legitimate male-line ( ō) and their consorts (王妃 ōhi); and the Emperor's other unmarried female descendants in the legitimate male-line (女王 joō).[2] In English, shinnō and ō are both translated as "prince" as well as shinnōhi, naishinnō, ōhi and joō as "princess".

After the removal of 11 collateral branches from the Imperial House in October 1947, the official membership of the imperial family has effectively been limited to the male line descendants of the Emperor Taishō, excluding females who married outside the imperial family and their descendants.

There are currently 19 members of the Imperial Family:[3]

The Princess Mikasa is the widow of The Prince Mikasa ( 2 December 1915 – 27 October 2016), the fourth son of Emperor Taishō and Empress Teimei and an uncle of Emperor Akihito. The princess was born on 4 June 1923, the second daughter of Viscount Masanori Takagi. Princess Mikasa has two daughters and three sons with the late Prince Mikasa.[9]

Family tree

For the full lineage of the Imperial family, see Japanese imperial family tree.

The following family tree shows the lineage of the current members of the Imperial family (living members in bold). Princesses who left the imperial family upon their marriage are indicated in italics:[3]

Emperor Taishō
Empress Teimei
Emperor Shōwa
Empress Kōjun
The Prince Chichibu
The Princess Chichibu
The Prince Takamatsu
The Princess Takamatsu
The Prince Mikasa
The Princess Mikasa
The Emperor
The Empress
The Prince Hitachi
The Princess Hitachi
Five daughters
2, 3, 4, 5
Prince Tomohito of Mikasa
Princess Tomohito of Mikasa
The Prince Katsura
The Prince Takamado
The Princess Takamado
Two daughters
1, 2
The Crown Prince
The Crown Princess
The Prince Akishino
The Princess Akishino
Sayako Kuroda
Princess Akiko of Mikasa
Princess Yōko of Mikasa
Princess Tsuguko of Takamado
Noriko Senge
Princess Ayako of Takamado
The Princess Toshi
Princess Mako of Akishino
Princess Kako of Akishino
Prince Hisahito of Akishino

Living former members

Under the terms of the 1947 Imperial Household Law, naishinnō (imperial princesses) and Joō (princesses) lose their titles and membership in the imperial family upon marriage, unless they marry the Emperor or another member of the imperial family. Four of the five daughters of Emperor Shōwa, the two daughters of Prince Mikasa, the only daughter of the Emperor Akihito and most recently, the second daughter of Prince Takamado, left the imperial family upon marriage, taking the surnames of their husbands. The eldest daughter of Emperor Shōwa married the eldest son of Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni in 1943. The Higashikuni family lost its imperial status along with the other collateral branches of the imperial family in October 1947. The living former imperial princesses are:

In addition to these former princesses, there are also several people of Imperial descent in the eleven cadet branches of the dynasty (Asaka, Fushimi, Higashifushimi, Higashikuni, Kan'in, Kaya, Kitashirakawa, Kuni, Nashimoto, Takeda, and Yamashina) that left the imperial family in October 1947. The Emperor Shōwa's eldest daughter, Shigeko Higashikuni, and his third daughter, Kazuko Takatsukasa, died in 1961 and 1989, respectively.


Members of the Imperial Family during the New Year Greeting at the Tokyo Imperial Palace in 2011

Historically, the succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne has generally passed in male line of the imperial lineage. The imperial clan previously included specially designated collateral lines or shinnōke (princely houses), too. The surviving shinnōke and several other branches of the extended imperial clan (the ōke) were reduced to commoner status in 1947.

Before the Meiji Restoration, Japan had eight female tennō or reigning empresses, all of them daughters of male line of the imperial clan. None ascended purely as a wife or as a widow of an emperor. None of these empresses married or gave birth after ascending the throne.

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 1947 enacted by the 92nd and last session of the Imperial Diet, retained the exclusion on female dynasts found in the 1889 law. The government of Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida hastily cobbled together the legislation to bring the Imperial House 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 naishinnō (imperial princesses) and joō (princesses) lose their status as imperial family-members if they marry outside the imperial family; that shinnō (imperial princes), other than the crown prince, ō (princes), unmarried imperial princes and princesses, and the widows of imperial princes and princesses may, upon their own request or in the event of special circumstances, renounce their membership in the imperial family with approval of the Imperial House Council; and that the Emperor and other members of the imperial family may not adopt children.

Before September 2006, there was a potential succession crisis since no male child had been born into the imperial family since Prince Akishino in 1965. Following the birth of Princess Toshi, there was some public debate about amending the Imperial House Law to allow female descendants of an emperor and their descendants to succeed to the throne. In January 2005, Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro appointed a special panel of judges, university professors, and civil servants to study changes to the Imperial House Law and to make recommendations to the government. On October 25, 2005, the commission recommended amending the law to allow females in the male line of imperial descent to succeed to the throne. Since the birth of a male son to another of Akihito's children the issue has been left in abeyance by both the public and successive governments.

History of titles

The Japanese Imperial Family in 1900

Ō (王) is a title (literally "king", commonly translated "prince") given to male members of the Japanese Imperial Family who do not have the higher title of shinnō (親王; literally "close-relative king", commonly translated "prince" or "imperial prince"). The female equivalent is joō/nyoō (女王; literally "female king" or "queen", commonly translated "princess") who do not have the higher title of naishinnō (内親王; literally "inner close-relative king", commonly translated "princess" or "imperial princess"). Ō can also be translated as "king" when it refers to a monarch of a kingdom. The origin of this double meaning is a copying of the Chinese pattern where a "king" is a title for noble persons under the emperor: imperial family members, high-ranking feudal lords, and foreign monarchs (excluding some strong monarchs equivalent to Chinese emperor). Unlike in China, however, ō was only used for imperial family members and foreign monarchs (except the former Korean emperor and his successors).

Historically, any male member of the Imperial Family was titled ō or by default, with shinnō being special titles granted by the Emperor. After the Meiji Restoration, the difference between ō and shinnō was altered. Under the new rule, a shinnō or naishinnō was a legitimate male-line Imperial Family member descended from an Emperor down to the great grandchild. The term "legitimate Imperial Family" excludes 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 shinnō-ke (親王家: shinnō family). A provision of law which never had an opportunity to be applied also stipulated that if the head of a shinnōke succeeded to the Chrysanthemum Throne, then 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.

In 1947, the law was changed so that shinnō and naishinnō only extended to the legitimate male-line grandchildren of an Emperor. The Imperial Family was also drastically pruned, disestablishing the ō-ke and the shinnō-ke. The consort of an ō or shinnō has the suffix -hi (妃; female consort) to ō or shinnō, that is, ōhi (王妃) or shinnōhi (親王妃).

Imperial standards

See also

The Imperial Family during the New Year Greeting at the Tokyo Imperial Palace in 2012

Related terms


  1. 1 2 According to legend, Jimmu founded Japan in 660 BC, becoming Japan's first emperor and member of the Imperial House.
  2. "The Imperial House Law". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  3. 1 2 "Genealogy of the Imperial Family". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  4. 1 2 "Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  5. 1 2 "Their Imperial Highnesses Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  6. Prince Fumihito
  7. 1 2 "Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Akishino". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  8. 1 2 "Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Hitachi". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  9. "Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Mikasa". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  10. "Her Imperial Highness Princess Tomohito of Mikasa". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  11. "Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  12. 1 2 "Personal Histories of Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Mikasa". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  13. "Personal Histories of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress". Retrieved 16 October 2012.

External links

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Imperial House of Japan
First ruling house Ruling House of Japan
660 BC–present
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