Emperor of Japan

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His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Akihito.
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According to the Japanese Constitution, the Emperor (天皇 tennō?, literally "heavenly sovereign") is a symbol of the Japanese nation and the unity of its people. He is the head of the Japanese Imperial Family. Under Japan's present constitution, the emperor is a ceremonial figurehead in a constitutional monarchy (see Politics of Japan); in world politics, he is the only reigning emperor. The current emperor is His Imperial Majesty the Emperor Akihito, who has been on the Chrysanthemum Throne since his father Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) died in 1989.

The role of the emperor of Japan has historically alternated between that of a supreme-rank cleric with largely symbolic powers and that of an actual imperial ruler. An underlying imperial cult (the idea of Arahitogami) regards the emperor as being descended from gods. Until 1945, the Japanese monarchs had always been, officially, military commanders. However, contrary to the usual role of a Western monarch, they did not practically function as such. Japanese emperors have nearly always been controlled by other political forces, to varying degrees.

Since the mid-nineteenth century, the Imperial Palace has been called "Kyūjō" (宮城), then Kōkyo (皇居), and located on the former site of Edo Castle (江戸城)in the heart of Tokyo. Earlier emperors resided in Kyoto for nearly eleven centuries.


[edit] History

Although the emperor has been a symbol of continuity with the past, the degree of power exercised by the emperor of Japan has varied considerably throughout Japanese history.

[edit] Origin

The earliest emperors recorded in Kojiki and Nihonshoki, such as Emperor Jimmu, are considered today to have no historical credibility. The earliest monarch now listed as an emperor who is generally acknowledged by historians to have existed historically was Emperor Ojin. These two books state that the imperial house maintained a continuous lineage, though today some historians believe that many ancient emperors who were claimed to be descendants of Emperor Ōjin had no actual genealogical tie to their predecessor.[citation needed]However, the genealogy beginning from Emperor Keitai can be regarded as reliable, thus meaning that the dynasty has continued at least some 1500 years.[citation needed]

[edit] Emergence

Until 6th century AD, today's imperial dynasty was just a local kingship (king of Yamato) in Central Japan. In 5th and 6th centuries, it gradually increased its dominance over its neighbors, resulting in a relatively centralized state (Prince Shotoku). That outcome contained practically all geographical areas of the Japanese culture, i.e. the central parts of what is now Japan. This means that the remote areas populated more by indigenous tribes, such as Emishi, Hayato, and Kumaso, were outside its borders. Fifth century was also the last period of remarkable inputs, such as mass immigration, helping the formation of the Japanese people. In mid-6th century, ancestral ruling families had converged also genealogically to give birth to Kimmei and his children, from whom the continuous imperial line descends.

Certain dates and details may be in dispute among Japanese historians. Many emperors cited in the formal list of Emperors of Japan died at a very young age and can hardly be said to have "ruled" in any serious sense of the word. Others were overshadowed by their predecessors, who had ostensibly retired to a monastery but continued to exert influence in a process called "cloistered rule."

[edit] House of Fujiwara, etc.

There have been six non-imperial families who have controlled Japanese emperors: the Soga (530s-645), the Fujiwara (850s-1070), the Taira (for a relatively short period), the Minamoto (and Kamakura bakufu) (1192-1331), the Ashikaga (1336-1565) and the Tokugawa (1603-1867). However, every shogun from the Minamoto, Ashikaga and Tokugawa families had to be officially recognised by the emperors, who were still the "official" commanders of the military, albeit they could not enforce their own free will.

[edit] Disputes

The growth of the samurai class from the 10th century gradually weakened the power of the imperial family over the nation, leading to a time of instability. Cloistered emperors have been known to come into conflict with the reigning emperor from time to time; a notable example is the Hōgen Rebellion of 1156, in which former Emperor Sutoku attempted to seize power from the then current Emperor Go-Shirakawa, both of whom were supported by different clans of samurai. Other instances, such as Emperor Go-Toba's 1221 rebellion against the Kamakura shogunate and the 1336 Kemmu Restoration under Emperor Go-Daigo, show the power struggle between the Imperial House and the military governments of Japan.

[edit] Territorial Matters

Up to 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 really only began to appear shortly before and during the time of Prince Shotoku. The emperor was more like a revered embodiment of divine harmony rather 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. Parliamentary government today continues a similar coexistence with the emperor as 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).

[edit] Shoguns

From the late 1100s to 1867, the real power was in the hands of the shoguns, who were in theory always given their authority through the emperor. When Portuguese and Spanish explorers first contacted Japan (see Nanban period), they likened the relationship between emperor and shogun to that of the Roman Catholic Pope (godly, but with little political power) and king (earthly, but with a relatively large amount of political power) though this in itself can be considered inaccurate as, like the Emperor, Roman Catholic Popes have wielded varying degrees of power throughout their history.

[edit] Meiji restoration

The Meiji restoration was in fact a kind of revolution, with the domains of Satsuma and Chōshū uniting to topple the Tokugawa Shogunate. Emperor Meiji's father, Emperor Komei, had begun to assert himself politically after Commodore Matthew Perry's ships visited Edo. By the early 1860s, the dynamic between the imperial court and the Shogunate had changed drastically. Ironically, Komei had asserted himself against the Shogunate because he and the other nobles were upset at the failure of the Shogunate to expel the barbarian interlopers. Disaffected domains and ronin began to rally to the call of "sonno, joi," or "respect the emperor, expel the barbarians." Satsuma and Chōshū used this turmoil to move against their historic enemy, and won an important military victory outside of Kyoto against Tokugawa forces. In 1868 an imperial "restoration" was declared, and the Shogunate was stripped of its powers. The next several years would see significant unrest and turmoil, along with sporadic rebellion.

[edit] Current role

The emperor's role is defined in Chapter I of the 1947 Constitution of Japan. Article 1 defines the emperor as the symbol of state and the unity of the people, Article 3 requires the approval of the cabinet for all acts of the emperor in matters of state, Article 4 specifically states that the emperor shall not have powers related to government, Article 6 gives the emperor the power to appoint the prime minister and the chief judge of the supreme court, each as designated by the Diet and cabinet, respectively, and Article 7 gives the emperor power to perform various ministerial functions typical of a head of state, subject to the advice and approval of the cabinet. In contrast with other constitutional monarchs, the emperor of Japan has no reserve powers.

Although the emperor currently performs many of the roles of a ceremonial sovereign as head of state, there has been persistent controversy within Japan as to whether the emperor is in fact a true monarch in a political sense or merely a hereditary pretender holding such office within a constitutional parliamentary republic. In a traditional monarchy, political power devolves from the monarchical sovereign, whose Royal prerogative is then exercised at the whim of elected legislators by way of established constitutional convention. However, if there is no royal prerogative then sovereignty must rest with people as it is so established under Article One of the Constitution of Japan. Hence the emperor is simply a political actor within a government that does not truly adhere to the Westminster system where the position of "head of the state" requires a person of sovereignty or with popular mandate to assume that office. Efforts in the 1950s by conservative powers to amend the constitution to explicitly name the emperor as head of state were rejected. Regardless, the emperor does perform all the diplomatic functions normally associated with a head of state and as a result is recognized as such by foreign powers.

[edit] Addressing and naming

Naming the emperors of Japan is often troublesome, due to linguistic and cultural differences between Japan and the Western world. While the Japanese use "{name} tennō" (for the past ones) or "Kinjō Heika" (今上陛下) for the current one, the English-speaking academics have been using several variants, such as "Emperor {name}" and, less commonly, "{name} Tenno". What is often not understood, however, is that emperors are posthumously named "{name} tennō", and thus the word "tennō", or "emperor", actually forms a part of their proper name. This is particularly misunderstood with respect to the emperors from Emperor Meiji onward, since the convention now is to posthumously name the emperors the same name as the era over which they preside, whereas previously one emperor's reign might contain a succession of short eras. Terms such as "Emperor Meiji" are thus understood in English as meaning "the emperor of the Meiji period", which is not always the understanding in Japanese.

In English, the term mikado (御門 or 帝 or みかど), former of which literally means "the Gate", used to refer to the emperor of Japan; this usage is now obsolete. In Japanese, the emperors of Japan, but not of other countries, are known as tennō (天). Literally, the word tennō combines the characters for "ruler" and "heaven", but this is not a mark of divinity; the use of ten (天, "heaven") in the Japanese word was an adoption of the established Chinese concept of the Mandate of Heaven, which meant that an emperor was appointed in the heavens to balance the political and religious affairs of his domain.

There are two Japanese words equivalent to the English word "emperor": tennō (天皇) is used specifically to describe the emperor of Japan, kōtei (皇帝, the title used by Chinese emperor) is used primarily to describe foreign emperors. Sumeramikoto (lit. "heavenly ruler above the clouds") was also used in Old Japanese.

Traditionally, the Japanese consider it discourteous to call a person of noble rank by their given names. This convention is almost dead, but still observed for the imperial family. Tenno (imina) gets attached posthum (prefix), but not to the current time emperor. Instead, past emperors are called by posthumous names such as Emperor Jimmu, Emperor Kammu and Meiji. Since the Meiji era, era names are also used as posthumous names. The current emperor on the throne is almost always referred to simply as Tennō Heika (天皇陛下, lit. "His Majesty the Emperor") or solemnly as Kinjō Heika (今上陛下). On the other hand, in ordinary conversations he is referred to simply as Heika, Okami or To-gin san ('To-gin' is a frank expression of Kinjō). The current emperor is not called by the current era name, which will become his posthumous name.

But today this custom tends to be followed more loosely, as described below. In English, the recent emperors are called by their personal names according to Western convention. As explained above, in Japanese this sounds offensive and, in some senses, blasphemous.

For example, the previous emperor is usually called Hirohito in English, but after his death he was renamed Shōwa Tennō and is now referred to exclusively by this name in Japanese. However, during his reign, he was never referred as Hirohito or Shōwa Tennō in Japanese. Rather, he was simply referred to as Tennō Heika (meaning "His Majesty the Emperor").

[edit] Origin of the title

The ruler of Japan was known as either ヤマト大王/大君 (yamato ōkimi, Grand King of Yamato), 倭王/倭国王 (waō/wakokuō, King of Wa, used externally), or 治天下大王 (amenoshita 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 Tenji and Empress Jitō.

[edit] Marriage traditions

Throughout history, contrary to any sort of harem practice of not recognizing a chief wife and just keeping an assortment of female chattel, Japanese emperors and noblemen appointed the position of chief wife.

The Japanese imperial dynasty consistently practiced official polygyny, a practice that only ended in the Taisho 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 (shinno, o). After a decision decreed by Emperor Ichijo, some emperors even had two empresses simultaneously (kogo and chugu 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 empress) 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 than imperials remained concubines, until Emperor Shomu--in what was specifically reported as the first elevation of its kind--elevated his Fujiwara consort 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 Japan has 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 kamis, Shinto gods: 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 kamis, was regarded desirable - or at least it suited to powerful Fujiwara lords, who thus received preference in 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 (Sessho and Kampaku), with these positions allowed to be held only by a Fujiwara sekke lord.

Earlier, the emperors had married females from families of the government-holding Soga lords, and females 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 were children of a couple of half-siblings. These marriages often were alliance or succession devices: the Soga lord ensured the domination of a prince, to be put as puppet to the throne; 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 branches.

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 was a prince without a mother of descent from such families allowed to ascend the throne. 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 succession.

The five Fujiwara families, Ichijo, Kujo, Nijo, 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.

The acceptable source of imperial wives, brides for the emperor and crown prince, were even legislated into the Meiji-era imperial house laws (1889), which stipulated that daughters of Sekke (the five main branches of the higher Fujiwara) and daughters of the imperial clan itself were primarily acceptable brides.

Since that law was repealed in the aftermath of WWII, the present Emperor Akihito became the first crown prince for over a thousand years to have an empress outside the previously eligible circle.

[edit] Succession

The Japanese imperial dynasty bases its position in the expression that it has reigned "since time immemorial". It is true that its origins are buried under mists of time: there are no records to show an existence of any early emperor who is known to have not been a descendant of other, yet earlier emperors. An early ancestor of the dynasty, Emperor Keitai (flourished in the early 500's CE) however is suspected to have been an homme nouveau, though he is traditionally regarded as a distant member of the dynasty of his predecessors. According to records, the family he started on the throne, however descends also from at least one, probably of several, imperial princesses of the immediate dynasty of his predecessors. 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. 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 - in other words, pure Salic law. It was adopted from Prussia, by which Japan was greatly influenced in the 1870s.

Strict agnatic primogeniture is, however, directly contradictory to several old Japanese traditions of imperial succession.

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:

  • Females were allowed to succeed (but there existed no own 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 male were allowed to inherit, nor a precedent forbidding it of children of empresses). However, female accession was clearly much rarer 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 practised 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 other. 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 shōgun-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 Japan's 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 seven women as Emperor on nine occasions.

Over a thousand years ago, a tradition started that an emperor should ascend relatively young. A dynast who has passed one's 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 endure tedious duties and to tolerate subjugation to political powerfuls, as well as sometimes to cloak the real 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, and/or influencing behind the curtains. Several emperors abdicated/reached 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 nine female tennō, or 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. Almost every Japanese empress and many emperors abdicated once a suitable male descendant was considered to be old enough to rule (just past toddlerhood, in some cases). Three empresses, Empress Suiko, Empress Kōgyoku (also Empress Saimei) and Empress Jitō, were widows of deceased emperors and princesses of the blood imperial in their own right. One, Empress Gemmei, 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 1889 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, 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, promulgated in 1947 by influence of US occupation administration and still in force, 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 princes and 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 Taisho, from being imperial princes any longer.

[edit] Current status

Succession is now regulated by laws passed by the Japanese Diet. The current law excludes females from the succession, although very occasionally females occupied the throne in earlier centuries. A change to this law had been considered until Princess Kiko gave birth to a son. (In the list of emperors of Japan, the empresses regnant are those with an asterisk after their reigning periods.) This creates a logistical challenge as well as political: any change in the law would most likely mean a revision to allow the succession of the first born rather than the first born son; however, the current emperor is not the first born -- he has elder sisters.

Occasionally, equal primogeniture has won in historical cases of Japanese succession: While it is true that most succession events in Japan had since time immemorial went in favor of a male heir, not necessarily the eldest of the sons themselves, it nevertheless is established by two precedents [of 1629 CE and of 642 CE] that an imperial princess may ascend the throne in preference and prior to her younger brothers. In 1629, the imperial princess Okiko ascended the Japanese throne as Reigning Empress Meisho tenno, as successor of her father, prior to her younger half-brother and other males. Only after her abdication 14 years later, her brother Tsuguhito (Emperor Go-Komyo tenno) ascended. However, her offspring would never have been allowed to ascend the throne.

Until the birth of a son to Prince Akishino on September 6, 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 current Imperial Household Law to allow women to succeed to the throne. In January 2005 Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi 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.

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 Minister 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. However, 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.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

zh-classical:天皇cy:Rhestr Ymerawdwyr Siapan de:Tennō es:Emperador de Japón eo:Imperiestro de Japanio fr:Empereur japonais gd:Impirean Iapanach ko:천황 is:Keisari Japans it:Imperatori del Giappone he:קיסר יפן la:Imperatores Iaponiae lt:Japonijos imperatorius nl:Keizer van Japan ja:天皇 pl:Cesarze Japonii pt:Lista de imperadores do Japão ru:Император Японии fi:Japanin keisari sv:Lista över kejsare av Japan zh:日本天皇

Emperor of Japan

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