The Imperial House of Japan (also referred to as the Imperial Family or kōshitsu, 皇室) 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 unity of the people. Although he is not technically head of state, he is frequently treated as one. 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 still in existence. The imperial house recognizes 125 legitimate monarchs since the accession of Emperor Jimmu (traditionally dated to February 11, 660 BC), including the reigning emperor, Akihito.
Current members of the Imperial Family
The 1947 Imperial Household Law defines the imperial house as: the , the , the , the 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 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 presently 23 members of the imperial family. Their personal names appear in parentheses:
- The Emperor (Akihito) was born at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on 23 December 1933, the elder son and sixth child of the Shōwa Emperor and Empress Kōjun (Nagako). He was married on 10 April 1959 to Empress (Michiko). The Empress, formerly Michiko Shoda, was born in Tokyo on 24 October 1934, the eldest daughter of Hidesaburo Shoda, president and honorary chairman of Nisshin Flour Milling Inc.. Emperor Akihito succeeded his father as emperor on 7 January 1989.
- 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 10 June 1993 to Masako Owada. Crown Princess (Masako) was born on 6 December 1963, the daughter of Hisashi Owada, a 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 at 2:43 pm Japan time weighing just over three kilograms (six pounds 12 ounces) and who holds the childhood title Princess Toshi (Toshi-no-miya).
- 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 Kawashima Kiko on 29 June 1988. Princess Akishino was born on 11 September 1966, the daughter of Kawashima Tatsuhiko, professor of economics at Gakushuin University. Prince and Princess Akishino have two daughters and a son:
- Prince Hitachi (Masahito) was born on 28 November 1935, the second son and seventh 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 1961, the day after his wedding. Princess Hitachi (Hanako), was born on 19 July 1940, the daughter of former Count Tsugaru Yoshitaka. Prince and Princess Hitachi have no children.
- Prince Mikasa (Takahito) was born on 2 December 1915, the fourth son of the Taisho Emperor and Empress Teimei (Sadako). He is the surviving brother of Emperor Shōwa and the surviving paternal 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 1936. Princess Mikasa (Yuriko) was born on 6 June 1921, the second daughter of Viscount Takagi Masanori. Prince and Princess Mikasa have two daughters and three sons. Their youngest son, Prince Takamado (Norihito), is deceased.
- 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 1941. Prince Tomohito married Aso Nobuko on 7 November 1980. Princess Tomohito of Mikasa was born on 9 April 1955, the daughter of 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:
- 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.
- Princess Takamado (Hisako) is the widow of Prince Takamado (Norihito) (born 29 December 1954, died 21 November 2002), the third son of The Prince and The Princess Mikasa and a first cousin of Emperor Akihito. The princess was born 10 July 1953, the daughter of Tottori Shigejiro. She married the prince on 6 December 1981. 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 1981. Princess Takamado has three daughters:
The following pedigree shows the current members of the imperial family.
Living former members of the imperial family
Under the terms of the 1947 Imperial House 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, the two daughters of Prince Mikasa, and most recently, the only daughter of the Emperor Akihito 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 family in October 1947). The living former imperial princesses (whose personal names are in parentheses) are:
- Ikeda Takamasa (Atsuko), born 7 March 1931, fourth daughter of Emperor Shōwa and surviving elder sister of Emperor Akihito.
- Shimazu Hisanaga (Takako), born 2 March 1939, fifth daughter and youngest child of Emperor Shōwa and younger sister of Emperor Akihito.
- Konoe Tadateru (Yasuko), born 26 April 1944, eldest daughter and eldest child of Prince and Princess Mikasa.
- Sen Soshitsu (Masako), born 23 October 1951, second daughter and fourth child of Prince and Princess Mikasa.
- Kuroda Yoshiki (Sayako), born 18 April 1969, third child and only daughter of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.
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 family in October 1947. The Shōwa emperor's eldest daughter, Higashikuni Morihito (Shigeko), and his third daughter, Takatukasa Toshimichi (Kazuko), died in 1961 and 1989, respectively.
- See also Emperor of Japan: Succession.
Historically, the succession to Japan's 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 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 House 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 Yoshida Shigeru 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 nyoō (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 princesses 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 Aiko, 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. There is broad public support for such a change. See Japanese Imperial succession controversy.
Current order of succession
- Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan, born 1960, the current Emperor's first son
- Prince Akishino (Fumihito), born 1965, the current Emperor's second son
- Prince Hisahito of Akishino, born September 6, 2006 Prince Akishino's son
- Prince Hitachi (Masahito), born 1935, the current Emperor's brother
- Prince Mikasa (Takahito), born 1915, the current Emperor's uncle (the brother of Hirohito)
- Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, born 1946, Prince Mikasa's first son (the current Emperor's eldest male cousin)
- Prince Katsura (Yoshihito), born 1948, Prince Mikasa's second son (the current Emperor's second eldest male cousin)
Crown Prince Naruhito has a daughter (Aiko) and Prince Akishino currently has two daughters (Mako and Kako) and a son (Hisahito). The emperor's brother, Prince Hitachi, is childless. Of the three sons of Prince Mikasa: 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).
Possible succession scenarios
Aside from amending the Imperial House Law to allow women to succeed to the throne, which a commission suggested, there were several other scenarios that could have produced a male heir.
Allowing members of the imperial family to adopt children or reinstating one or more of the abolished cadet lines to imperial status were both possibilities, and there were a limited number of other viable solutions.
- Crown Prince Naruhito could have attempted to produce a male heir.
- Prince Akishino could have continued attempts to produce a male heir (which he did).
In theory, one of other male members of the imperial family could have produced a son, but this was considered very unlikely for various reasons.
- The wives of Prince Hitachi and Prince Tomohito of Mikasa were long past childbearing age.
- If concubines had been the solution, then it would have applied to the Crown Prince first.
- Prince Katsura has been paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair since suffering a series of strokes in 1988.
Theoretically, the imperial family may have come to end after the last male heir died, since an heir must descend from the male line.
The pregnancy of Princess Kiko was announced that on February 6, 2006. She gave birth on September 6, 2006. The baby, Prince Hisahito of Akishino (using the Chinese characters for "virtuous, calm, and everlasting") will be third in line to the throne, behind his father and his uncle.
This birth temporarily abates the looming succession crisis, although the problem could resurface if anything untoward happens to the child before he can sire a male offspring. Prince Hisahito is the only male and heir of his generation, and he could eventually become the only member of the Japanese Imperial Family.
It has been suggested that the succession laws could be changed into an equal primogeniture system, allowing the line of succession to grow significantly. The order of succession would then become:
- Crown Prince Naruhito, the Emperor's eldest son (b. 1960)
- Princess Aiko, the Crown Prince's daughter (b. 2001)
- Prince Akishino, the Emperor's younger son (b. 1965)
- Princess Mako of Akishino, Prince Akishino's eldest child (b. 1991)
- Princess Kako of Akishino, Prince Akishino's second child (b. 1994)
- Prince Hisahito of Akishino, Prince Akishino's third child (b. 2006)
- Prince Hitachi, the Emperor's younger brother (b. 1935)
- Prince Mikasa, the Emperor's uncle (b. 1915)
- Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, Prince Mikasa's eldest son (b. 1946)
- Princess Akiko, Prince Tomohito's eldest daughter (b. 1981)
- Princess Yōko, Prince Tomohito's younger daughter, (b. 1983)
- Prince Katsura, Prince Mikasa's second son (b. 1948)
- Princess Tsuguko, eldest daughter of the late Prince Takamado, Prince Mikasa's third son (b. 1986)
- Princess Noriko, Prince Takamado's second daughter (b. 1988)
- Princess Ayako, Prince Takamado's third daughter (b. 1990)
History of titles
(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; literally relative-prince
) and its female equivalent naishinnō
(内親王; literally relative-princess
) 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 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 only extended to the male-line grandchildren of an Emperor. The Imperial Family was also drastically pruned, disestablishing the ōke and shinnōke. The consort of an ō or shinnō has the suffix -hi (妃) to ō or shinnō.
- Yamashina (extinct)
- Kachō or Kwachō (extinct)
- Higashifushimi (extinct)