Japanese Royalty


Figure 1.--This photograph of Crown Prince Hirohito was taken in 1902. A definitive biography of the future Emperor describing his level of involvement in Japan's World War II effort and ability to control the military has never been written.

The Japanese imperial family is the world's oldest hereditary monarchy.. Emperors were, and are known by the name, or names of their reigns. The current reigning Emperor, Akihito is number 125 in the unbroken chain of sucession. The first was, Jimmu (660-585 B.C.). The Japanese word for Emperor is Tenno. Since the foundation of Japan in about 600 BC, The Imperial Household of Japan (in Japanese, Koshitsu) has been keep the unbroken line of the Family and Emperors as the only dynasty in Japan for over 2600 years. More than 90 percent of Japanese people reportedly support the Imperial Household and His Majesty the Emperor. The Imperial family in a very real sence has become the modern symbol of the unity of the Japanese nation. For a long term of the periods of Japan, the Emperor has been a mere figurehead and real power was yielded by a series of military shogans. Even through this period, however, the dynastic chain remained unbroken and the Emperor's continued to be vernerated by the Japanese peolple. To understand Japan, it is necessary to know about the Imperial family. The first article of the Japanese constitution states that "the Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of them people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power." This established a new role for the Japanese Imperial Family in Japanese society, bringing into line with that of royal families in most other countries. As most other present-day royal or Imperial Heads of State, the Japanese Emperor has no powers related to government, and can only act in matters of the state as described in the constitution. (Article 4), the Emperor performs official duties such as the promulgation of laws and treaties, convoking the Diet, proclamation of general elections, awarding of honours, etc. with the advice and approval of the Cabinet (Article 7).

The Imperial Dynasty

The Japanese imperial family is the world's oldest hereditary monarchy. Myths about creator gods and the belief that the imperial dynasty was founded by the descendants of the Sun Goddess were propagated by the clan that eventually gained political hegemony over the nation. These origin myths formed the basis of the state and were used by the leaders of Japan to unify the people and justify their imperial rule. The Japanese imperial family is the world's oldest hereditary monarchy. The family dates in lineage back to the sixth century BC. The title of Tenno (emperor) or Sumera-Mikoto (heavenly sovereign) was assumed by rulers in the sixth or seventh century. Emperors were, and are known by the name, or names of their reigns. The current reigning Emperor, Akihito is number 125 in the unbroken chain of sucession. The first was, Jimmu (660-585 B.C.). The Japanese word for Emperor is Tenno. Since the foundation of Japan in about 600 BC, The Imperial Household of Japan (in Japanese, Koshitsu) has been keep the unbroken line of the Family and Emperors as the only dynasty in Japan for over 2600 years. The family crest is the kiku, or chrysanthemum, giving rise to the term chrysanthemum throne. The role of the Emperor has varied in importance in Japanese society. Some emperors have been absolute rulers. Others have been mere figureheads to poweful showguns. It is the Menji restoration where the ruling role of the emperor was restored that began the building of modern Japan. The emperor's role changed again after Japan's defeat in World War II. Emperor Hirohito had been considered a divine being. Japan's new Constitution made him the "Symbol of the state", but no longer a devine ruler. The emperor now plays a largely ceremonial role as a constututional monarch. There have been eight emperesses in Japan's long history, but the 1946 law on the monarchy bars femal sucession.

The Modern Monarchy

The first article of the Japanese constitution states that "the Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of them people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power." This established a new role for the Japanese Imperial Family in Japanese society, bringing into line with that of royal families in most other countries. As most other present-day royal or Imperial Heads of State, the Japanese Emperor has no powers related to government, and can only act in matters of the state as described in the constitution. (Article 4), the Emperor performs official duties such as the promulgation of laws and treaties, convoking the Diet, proclamation of general elections, awarding of honours, etc. with the advice and approval of the Cabinet (Article 7). Not surprisingly, the emperor and the imperial family still are a source of authority in modern Japan. However, the authority it possesses today, compared with its authority during the Heian period differs in nature. Until 1945, the year Japan was defeated in World War II, the Japanese believed in the emperor's divinity. This belief fueled the Japanese fighting spirit during the war, for if the people were the emperor's children, then they were divine, too. The Japanese people stopped believing in the emperor's divinity, however, when Emperor Hirohito addressed his people on the radio: I am no more divine. I am a human. Hirohito never thought of himself as a divine being, but his "divine" authority was used by the government for propaganda purposes. Today in Japan, many people, schools, and associations refuse to hoist a Japanese flag or sing the Japanese anthem because during the war, the Japanese flag and anthem were the symbol of Yamato damashii (Japanese soul or identity with the emperor) and instilled militaristic enthusiasm into the Japanese. The people have not forgotten how their Yamato damashii was once exploited and how as a result millions of people had to die during the War. Nevertheless, there are still many Japanese who are in love with the Japanese imperial family. The popularity of the family is continued by the pleasant personality and acts of the current emperor, the Emperor Akihito.

Emperesses

There have been few reigning Empresses. The last, Suiko, held the throne from 592-628 A.D. Dynatic rules currently leave Japan without an heir to the throne beyond Crown Prince Nauruhito and his brother Aki. One possible resolution of this problem. Amending the rules to allow women to ascend to the throne would be a much more elegant solution. The problem, apparently, is that some of the more reactionary elements in the IHA balk at any talk of making this change, in spite of the fact that there have been Emperesses in the past. Apparently gender equality has a long way to come before it can rear its head behind the chrysanthemum curtain.

Religion

The Japanese Imperial Family is strongly associated with the Shinto religion. Shinto is a highly nationalistic Japanese religion developing from the animist beliefs of the early Japanese people. It was strongly influenced by Buddhist beliefs arriving from China. Shinto taught that the Emperor was divine, but over much of Japanese history, Japan was governed by warring nobels or in more recent history, the powerful Shogun who never dared replace the emperor. The Emperor Meiji overthrew the Shogunate (1860s) and launched the modernization of Japan. This included constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion. The Japanese military after World War I used Shinto to teach that the Japan were a chosen people destined to rule the world and promoted the emperor cult to unheard of extremes as part of an effort to expand the Japanese Empire. Here we are unsure to what extent Emperor Hirohito was involved in this process. There is no indication he objected. To what extent he promoted it, we do not know, Nor do we know if he really believed it. This eventually led to the horrendous Pacific War. Nationalist attempted to purse Shino of Buddhist elements. All Japanese including Buddhists and Christians had to attend services at Shinto shrines. After the War, as part of the democritization of Japan, the Emperor denined his devinity and freedom of religion was reinstituted. There continues, however, to be a close assocuation between the Royal Family and Shinto. Here we are not sure about the details, but suspect it is rather like the relationship between the British monarchy and the Anglican Church. Hopefully our Japanese readers will provide more details.








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Created: June 6, 1998
Last updated: 8:02 PM 5/22/2009