Line of succession to the Japanese throne

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The line of succession to the Japanese throne is the list of all people who may become Emperor of Japan.

Present line of succession[edit]

Crown Prince Naruhito is heir apparent to the Japanese throne

The following is the order of succession to the Japanese throne as of 2014:


The Imperial House Law of 1889 was the first Japanese law to regulate the imperial succession. Until October 1947, when it was abolished and replaced with the Imperial Household Law, it defined the succession to the throne as follows, under the principle of agnatic primogeniture:

  • 1. The eldest son of the reigning Emperor, the Crown Prince or Kōtaishi
  • 2. The eldest son of the Crown Prince (Kōtaison, styled as such if there is no Kōtaishi)
  • 3. The younger sons of the Crown Prince and their male descendants in the male line.
  • 4. The younger sons of the reigning Emperor and their male descendants in the male line.
  • 5. The younger brothers of the reigning Emperor and their male descendants in the male line.
  • 6. The paternal uncles of the reigning Emperor and their male descendants in the male line.
  • 7. The nearest paternal male relative of the Emperor and his male descendants in the male line.

In all instances, the succession proceeded from the eldest male heir to the youngest (Ch. 1: Article 3). In the majority of cases, the legitimate sons and male heirs of an emperor were favoured over those born to concubines. Illegitimate sons would only be eligible to succeed if no other male heirs existed in the direct line; however, the illegitimate sons of an emperor had precedence over any legitimate brothers of the emperor (Ch. I: Article 4). Those in the line of succession suffering from "incurable diseases of mind or body," or when "any other weighty cause exists," could be passed over with the advice of the Imperial Family Council, headed by the emperor, and after consulting the Privy Council (Ch. I: Article 9).[1]

On 11 February 1907, an amendment was made to the Imperial House Law to reduce the number of imperial princes in the shinnōké and ōké, the cadet branches of the imperial family, who were fifth or sixth-generation descendants of an emperor. The amendment provided for princes to leave the imperial family, either by imperial decree or by imperial sanction. They were then granted a family name and assumed the status of nobles with the peerage ranks of marquis or count, thereby becoming subjects (Article I). Alternatively, a prince could be formally adopted into a noble family or succeed to the headship of an imperial family line as a noble (Article II). Under the terms of the amendment, the former princes and their descendants were excluded from the line of succession and made ineligible to return to the imperial family at any future date (Article VI).[2][3]

Current succession rules[edit]

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 princesses and princesses, and the widows of imperial princes and princes 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.

Succession crisis[edit]

Further information: Japanese succession controversy

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 Aiko, 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 Junichiro Koizumi 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 January 24, 2005, the Japanese government announced that it would consider allowing the Crown Prince and Crown Princess to adopt a male child, in order to avoid a possible succession disputes. Adoption from other male-line branches of the Imperial Line is an age-old imperial Japanese tradition for dynastic purposes, prohibited only in modern times by Western influence. The child would presumably be adopted from one of the former imperial branches which lost imperial status after World War II. However, a government-appointed panel of experts submitted a report on October 25, 2005, recommending that the imperial succession law be amended to permit absolute primogeniture.

The late Prince Tomohito of Mikasa opposed the introduction of absolute primogeniture, as have several Japanese lawmakers.[4]


  1. ^ p. 1235, "The Imperial House Law - Chapter 1: Succession to the Imperial Throne," Japan Year Book 1933, Kenkyusha Press, Foreign Association of Japan, Tokyo
  2. ^ pg. 143-144, "Leaders and Leadership In Japan," Japan Library, Curzon Press Ltd., Richmond, 1996
  3. ^ p. 1239, "The Imperial House Law - A Supplement to the Imperial House Law (February 11, 1907)," Japan Year Book 1933, Kenkyusha Press, Foreign Association of Japan, Tokyo
  4. ^ Rally against Japan royals change