A monarchy conducted with infinite wisdom and infinite benevolence is the most perfect of all possible governments -  Ezra Stiles

The Emperor of Japan is not only the head of the imperial family of Japan, but also the state of Japan. The Constitution of Japan defines the Japan emperor as the symbol of the state and the unity of the people. His title is said to be derived from the will of the people, who are considered to be the sovereign. Unlike the role of the President of India, who has no executive powers, in Japan, the Supreme Court does not hold any judicial power over Naruhito Japan, the current head of the state. The Imperial Household Law dictates and decided the line of imperial succession.

The Japanese word for emperor is tenno which literally translates into emperor of God. The Emperor of Japan is also the supreme power on all Japanese orders, awards, decorations, and medals. The Japan emperor is the sole remaining head of state with the highest monarchical title of emperor. And the Imperial House of Japan is one of the oldest royal families in the world.

If you are planning to visit Japan, a little cultural history and knowledge about the heritage is essential.

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The Imperial History of Japan

history pages
The Imperial history of Japan dates back to several centuries and to old emperors and princes.

According to traditional accounts from Japan like that of the Kojiki (712 A.D.) and Nihon Shoki (720 A.D.), Japan is said to have been founded by in 660 B.C. by Emperor Jimmu. Jimmu was said to be a direct descendant of Amaterasu, who is the Goddess of Sun according to Japanese mythology. Naruhito, the current Japanese emperor, acceded to the Chrysanthemum Throne when his father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito abdicated the throne in 2019.

Unlike most Western monarchs and emperors, Japanese emperors have rarely taken on a military role in history. The Emperor of Japan has largely played the role of an imperial ruler and sometimes only symbolically. Since the first shogunate was established in 1199,  the Japan emperor has mostly been controlled by external political forces. For instance, the shoguns of Kamakura were nominally appointed by the emperor to act as de facto rulers between 1192 and 1867. Later, after the Meiji Restoration in 1867, the Japanese emperor came to be hailed as the embodiment of all sovereign power in the realm. Since 1947, however, with the enactment of the Japanese Constitution, the role of the Japanese emperor has been made only to be the ceremonial head of state without political powers.

The Imperial Palace was called the Kyujo in the 19th century and later the Kokyo. The palace is situated on a site where the Edo Castle once stood in the heart of the city of Tokyo, the capital of modern Japan. Before the the Kyujo, Japanese emperors and princes lived in Kyoto (the ancient capital) with their wives and extended families for almost 11 centuries. The birthday of the Japan emperor is still celebrated as a national holiday.

Hirohito was the longest reigning monarch of Japan who ruled between 1926 until his death in 1989.

The Constitutional Role of Japan Emperor

Royal Japanese army
The Emperor of Japan is considered to be the real sovereign and guardian of its people | Image Source: Unsplash | Image courtesy: Manoj Kumar Kasiranjan

The Emperor of Japan, Naruhito, is not the nominal chief executive of the state. The role of Japan emperor is limited to certain ceremonial duties only. Unlike most other modern states, the Constitution of Japan vests executive power in the Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister. The latter is also the leader of the Defense Forces of Japan.

The Constitution restricts the role of Japan emperor to ceremonial duties only and does not give any powers related to governing of the state. Moreover, for all matters of state involving the Emperor, the approval of the Cabinet is a must. The Japan Emperor may choose to delegate these duties, if he deems fit and as dictated by law. Also, while the emperor can appoint the Prime Minister to office, he has not right to decline this appointment which comes approved and designated by the DIET.

Essentially, the Japan emperor can perform two ceremonial roles:

  1. Appointing the Prime Minister, as designated by the Diet.
  2. Appointing the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Japan, as designated by the Cabinet.

Other Duties Performed by the Japanese Emperor

  1. Awarding of honors, medals, and decorations.
  2. Diet convocation.
  3. Dissolving the House of Representatives.
  4. Hosting foreign ministers and ambassadors.
  5. Promulgating constitutional amendments, treaties, and Cabinet orders.
  6. Attesting general and special amnesty.
  7. Proclaiming the Diet general elections.
  8. Attesting the appointment and dismissal of ministers and other officials of the State.
  9. Attesting full powers and credential of ministers.
  10. Attesting diplomatic documents and ratifying instruments of law.

Find out what documents you need if you're planning to visit the Imperial Palace, Japan.

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Other Roles Played by the Emperor of Japan

important players
The crown prince of Japan accedes the throne in the event of death or abdication by the existing monarch.

Until Japan's surrender during the second World War, the Emperor of Japan was looked upon as the God King. This is also the reason why the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces spent almost half of the 20th century fighting war after war to extend the emperor's rule. When Japan was finally defeated in 1945, Emperor Hirohito reluctantly surrendered his divine status and all political powers. The Chrysanthemum Throne, however, has not ceased to exist and was ruled by the then crown prince Akihito and now by his son Naruhito.

A Typical Day in the Life of the Japan Emperor

In case you are wondering, what does a monarch really do, then here is a sneak peek into the life of former emperor Akihito and his empress Michiko. He would wake up daily at 6.30 am and the first thing to do was to catch the news on TV. Then he would step out onto the royal gardens for a pleasant walk with Empress Michiko by his side, before stepping out in his Honda Integra for a drive around town for work or pleasure.

As the day progresses, official duties call. The schedule usually includes greeting foreign ambassadors, giving out awards and performing his duties as a Shinto priest. You would be amazed to know that Emperor Akihito used to be a world-class expert on goby fish and has 38 peer-reviewed papers published to his name.

The evenings would be filled with official banquets and receptions.

Who are the Members of the Imperial House of Japan?

The royal family still has the King, Naruhito as the head and there is a long family tree that almost seems like a maze | Image source: Pixabay.com | Image courtesy: Gina Janosch

The Imperial Family of Japan constitutes members of the extended family of the current Japanese emperor, Naruhito. The current count of family members is 18:

  1. The Emperor of Japan: Naruhito is the son of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. He became the crown prince when his father acceded the throne and on May 1, 2019 he became the current Japan emperor.
  2. The Empress: Empress Masako is the daughter of a former vice minister of foreign affairs . She assumed the title of Empress consort when Naruhito acceded the throne in 2019.
  3. Princess Toshi is the daughter of Emperor Naruhito Japan and Empress Masako.
  4. Emperor Emeritus Akihito became the monarch in 1989 and abdicated the throne in 2019.
  5. Empress Emerita was empress consort to Akihito during his reign.
  6. Crown prince Akishino is the the second son of Akihito.
  7. Crown Princess Akishino is a professor of Economics at the Gakushuin University.
  8. Princess Mako is the first child of crown prince and princess.
  9. Princess Kako is the second daughter of crown prince and princess.
  10. Prince Hisahito is the youngest son of crown prince and princess.
  11. Prince Hitachi is the second son of Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun.
  12. Princess Hitachi is the wide of Prince Hitachi. The two have no children.
  13. Princess Mikasa is the widow of Prince Mikasa.
  14. Princess Tomohito of Mikasa is the widow of the prince.
  15. Princess Akiko of Mikasa is the first daughter of Princess Tomohito.
  16. Prince Yoko of Mikasa is the second daughter of Princess Tomohito.
  17. Princess Takamado is the widow of Prince Takamado, who was the third son of the Prince and Princess Mikasa and the second cousin of Emperor Naruhito.
  18. Princess Tsuguko is the daughter of Princess Takamdo.

Naruhito, The Current Emperor of Japan

Japan Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace of Japan is the home of the Emperor of Japan | Image Source: PIxabay.com | Image Courtesy: Pierre Blache

In the past, people were born royal. Now, royalty comes from what you do - Gianni Versace

The original name of Naruhito, the current Japan emperor was Hironomiya Naruhito. He is now the 126th Japanese emperor to accede the throne and tradition traces his lineage directly to Jimmu, who was the first Japanese emperor. Being the eldest son of Akihito, who was the crown prince when Naruhito was born, the latter became the presumptive heir to the throne at birth. Following the death of Akihito's father in 1989 and his accession to the throne, Naruhito was conferred the title of crown prince.

It was in 2016 when Akihito publicly announced his willingness to step down as monarch and to abdicate the throne citing age. The following year the Diet modified the original Imperial Household Law of 1947, which, until then, only allowed for imperial succession upon the emperor's death. In 2017, Akihito made his position official allowing the Cabinet to prepare for the first imperial abdication in two centuries. Naruhito acceded the throne at midnight on April 30, 2019 and Akihito gracefully stepped down making way for the future king. This transition also marks the beginning of the Reiwa period, the era of Naruhito's reign. The word reiwa loosely translates into beautiful harmony in English.

Planning a trip to Japan? Here are the must-visit cities of Japan and the most iconic landmarks.

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Pragnajyoti

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