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Japanese Royalty: History


Figure 1.--

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 female sucession.

Origins

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.

Imperial Line

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.). Japanese imperial hostory has been one of the struggle netween the emperor on one hand and powerful nobels known as daimos. In addition emperor's have varied as to their involvement. Some emperors have actually ruled. Others have disabced themselves and allowed appointed officials to rule. Some emperors have governmed a united countries. Other emperors have been unavlke to prevent civil war between competing nobels. Several emperors tried to bring the regional clans under central Imperial control (7th-8th centuries AD). Emperor Tenji is the best remembered of the early emperors (661-672 AD). Tenji succeeded in establishing direct imperial rule, based on the ruling Tang dynasty in China. Prince Shotoku, son of the Empress Suiko, was a noted figure in the Nara Period (710~794). He issued Japan's first constitution and installed Buddhism as Japan's principal religion. Emperor Kammu at the onset of the Heian Period (794~1185) founded a new capital in Kyoto. The new capital was built on the basis of the Chinese capital. The emperor at the time was encumbered by a traditional bureaucracy. The court was occupied withh arts and literature. Japan came to be ruled by reget and advisors depending on the age age of the emperors. These offices came to largely hereditary in nature and dominated by powerful aristocratic families. These clans did not attemp to seize the imperial title because it would have been resisted by other clans, but these essentially ruled in the emperor's name. The Emperor Godaigo briefly restored imperial rule (14th century), but this was the exception. Japan was for centurues ruled by military war lords or shoguns. Depending on the power off the shogun, Japan experienced peace ir civil war. The last great shogun was Tokugawa Ieyasu seized control of recently united Japan. Ironically, under the Tokugawa shogunate during the Edo Period (1600~1868), the imperial institutions began to increase in prestige. The Tokugawa shoguns uled from Edo (now Tokyo). The emperors held court in Kyoto and performed their mostly religious duties.

The Emperor

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.

Mythology

The yuthology of the imperial family comes from primarily from two historical chronicles: the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters--712 AD) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicle of Japan--720AD). Accordug to these documents, the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami presented the sanshu no jingi or Imperial Regalia to her grandson, Ninigi no Mikoto. He in his turn passed them to his descendants, the emperors, the first of whom was Emperor Jimmu. The regalia, a mirror, a sword and a curved jewel are symbols of the legitimacy and authority of the emperor. These creation myths also are the foundation stones the indigenous Japanese Shinto religion. Over time they ca,e to be kept in different locations. Notably Emperor Hirohito as Japan prepared to surrender to the Americans at the end of World War II, Emperor Hirohito orderd that the sacred items be brought to him in the imperaila palace in Tokyo. The emperor came to be regarded as possessing magical powers and to converse with the gods. The Japamese gradually came to regard it as beneath the imperial dignity for the emperor to sully his hands by the often messy day-to-day administration of the country. Japan was ruled by appointed officials abd then for a while after the rise of powerful nobels, by showguns.

Role

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.

Modern Monarchy

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 female sucession. 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.






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Created: 12:12 AM 10/15/2006
Last updated: 12:12 AM 10/15/2006