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Imperial House of Japan

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Title: Imperial House of Japan  
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Subject: Princess Yōko of Mikasa, Masahito, Prince Hitachi, Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan, Takahito, Prince Mikasa, Emperor of Japan
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Imperial House of Japan

Imperial House of Japan
Country Japan
Parent house Yamato
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 Akishino-no-miya

The Imperial House of Japan (皇室 kōshitsu), 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 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 children and their children's 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 25 emperors is marginal by modern standards, but there is firm evidence for the hereditary line since Emperor Keitai 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
Japanese Imperial Family

HIH The Prince Mikasa
HIH The Princess Mikasa

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

Article 5 of the Imperial Household Law (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); Emperor's legitimate sons and legitimate grandsons in the legitimate male-line (親王 shinnō) and their consorts (親王妃 shinnōhi); Emperor's unmarried legitimate daughters and unmarried legitimate granddaughters in the legitimate male-line (内親王 naishinnō); 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 presently 20 members of the Imperial Family:[3]

  • The Emperor was born at Tokyo Imperial Palace on 23 December 1933, the elder son and sixth child of the Emperor Shōwa and Empress Kōjun. He was married on 10 April 1959 to Michiko Shōda. Emperor Akihito succeeded his father as emperor on 7 January 1989.[4]
  • The Empress, formerly Michiko Shōda, was born in Tokyo on 24 October 1934, the eldest daughter of Hidesaburo Shōda, president and honorary chairman of Nisshin Flour Milling Inc..[4]
    • The Crown Prince, the eldest son of the Emperor and the Empress, was born in the Hospital of the Imperial Household in Tokyo on 23 February 1960. He became heir apparent upon his father's accession to the throne. Crown Prince Naruhito was married on 10 June 1993 to Masako Owada.[5]
    • The Crown Princess was born on 9 December 1963, the daughter of Hisashi Owada, a former vice minister of foreign affairs and former permanent representative of Japan to the United Nations.[5] The Crown Prince and Crown Princess have one daughter:
    • The Prince Akishino, the Emperor's second son, was born on 11 November 1965. His childhood title was Prince Aya. He received the title Prince Akishino and permission to start a new branch of the imperial family upon his marriage to Kiko Kawashima on 29 June 1990.[6]
    • The Princess Akishino was born on 11 September 1966, the daughter of Tatsuhiko Kawashima, professor of economics at Gakushuin University.[6] Prince and Princess Akishino have two daughters and a son:
  • The Prince Hitachi was born on 28 November 1935, the second son and seventh child of the Emperor Shōwa and Empress Kojun. His childhood title was Prince Yoshi. He received the title Prince Hitachi and permission to set up a new branch of the imperial family on 1 October 1961, the day after his wedding.[7]
  • The Princess Hitachi was born on 19 July 1940, the daughter of former Count Yoshitaka Tsugaru. Prince and Princess Hitachi have no children.[7]

The Prince Mikasa was born on 2 December 1915, the fourth son of the Emperor Taishō and Empress Teimei. 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 and permission to start a new branch of the imperial family on 2 December 1935. He married on 22 October 1941.[8]
The Princess Mikasa was born on 6 June 1923, the second daughter of Viscount Masanori Takagi. Prince and Princess Mikasa have two daughters and three sons.[8]

  • Princess Tomohito of Mikasa is the widow of Prince Tomohito of Mikasa (born 5 January 1946, died 6 June 2012), the eldest son of the Prince and Princess Mikasa and a first cousin of Emperor Akihito. The princess was born on 9 April 1955, the daughter of Takakichi Asō, chairman of Asō Cement Co. and his wife, Kazuko, a daughter of former prime minister Shigeru Yoshida.[9] She has two daughters with the late Prince Tomohito of Mikasa:
  • The Princess Takamado is the widow of The Prince Takamado (born 29 December 1954, died 21 November 2002), the third son of the Prince and Princess Mikasa and a first cousin of Emperor Akihito. The princess was born 10 July 1953, the daughter of Shigejiro Tottori. She married the prince on 6 December 1981. Originally known as Prince Norihito of Mikasa, he received the title Prince Takamado and permission to start a new branch of the imperial family on 1 December 1981.[10] Princess Takamado has three daughters, two of whom remain members of the Imperial family:

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
1, 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:

  • Atsuko Ikeda, born 7 March 1931, fourth daughter of Emperor Shōwa and surviving elder sister of Emperor Akihito.
  • Takako Shimazu, born 2 March 1939, fifth daughter and youngest child of Emperor Shōwa and younger sister of Emperor Akihito.
  • Yasuko Konoe, born 26 April 1944, eldest daughter and eldest child of Prince and Princess Mikasa.[11]
  • Masako Sen, born 23 October 1951, second daughter and fourth child of Prince and Princess Mikasa.[11]
  • Sayako Kuroda, born 18 April 1969, third child and only daughter of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.[12]
  • Noriko Senge, born 22 July 1988, second daughter of Prince and Princess Takamado.

In addition to these former princesses, there are also several people of Imperial descent in 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 Emperor Shōwa's eldest daughter, Shigeko Higashikuni, and his third daughter, Kazuko Takatsukasa, died in 1961 and 1989, respectively.


Members of the Imperial Family and the new year greeting 2011 at the Tokyo Imperial Palace.

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 and the new year greeting 2012 at the Tokyo Imperial Palace.

Related terms


  1. ^ a b 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. ^ a b "Genealogy of the Imperial Family". Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  4. ^ a b "Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress". Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  5. ^ a b "Their Imperial Highnesses Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako". Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  6. ^ a b "Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Akishino". Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  7. ^ a b "Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Hitachi". Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  8. ^ a b "Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Mikasa". Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  9. ^ "Her Imperial Highness Princess Tomohito of Mikasa". Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  10. ^ "Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado". Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  11. ^ a b "Personal Histories of Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Mikasa". Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  12. ^ "Personal Histories of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress". Retrieved 16 October 2012. 

External links

  • The official website of the Imperial Household Agency
  • Japan Zone | The Imperial Family
Imperial House of Japan
Preceded by
Ruling House of Japan
660 BC–present
Succeeded by
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