Imperial House of Japan

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Imperial House of Japan
Imperial Seal of Japan.svg
Country Japan
Ethnicity Japanese
Founded 11 February 660 BC[1]
Founder Jimmu[1]
Current head Akihito
Titles Emperor of Japan
Empress of Japan
Regent of Japan
Crown Prince
Crown Princess
Religion Shinto
Cadet branches House of Akishino
House of Hitachi
House of Mikasa
House of Takamado

The Imperial House of Japan (皇室, kōshitsu), also referred to as the Imperial Family and the Yamato Dynasty,[2] 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 of the 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 their children and so on.

The Japanese monarchy is claimed to be the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world.[3] The imperial house recognizes 125 monarchs beginning with the legendary Emperor Jimmu (traditionally dated to 11 February 660 BC) and continuing up to the current emperor, Akihito; see its family tree.

Historical evidence for the first 29 emperors is marginal by modern standards, but there is firm evidence for the hereditary line since Emperor Kinmei ascended the throne 1,500 years ago.[4]

List of current members[edit]

The Emperor and Empress with their family in November 2013
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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 Grand empress dowager (太皇太后, tai-kōtaigō); the Empress dowager (皇太后, kōtaigō); the Emperor's legitimate sons and legitimate grandsons in the legitimate male-line (親王, shinnō), and their consorts (親王妃, shinnōhi); the Emperor's unmarried legitimate daughters and unmarried legitimate granddaughters in the legitimate male-line (内親王, naishinnō); the Emperor's other legitimate male descendants in the third and later generations in the legitimate male-line (, ō) and their consorts (王妃, ōhi); and the Emperor's other unmarried legitimate female descendants in the third and later generations in the legitimate male-line (女王, joō).[5] 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 currently 19 members of the Imperial Family:[6]

  • The Emperor was born at Tokyo Imperial Palace on 23 December 1933, the elder son and fifth 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.[7]
  • The Empress, formerly Michiko Shōda, was born in Tokyo on 20 October 1934, the eldest daughter of Hidesaburo Shōda, president and honorary chairman of Nisshin Flour Milling Inc..[7]
    • 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 9 June 1993 to Masako Owada.[8]
    • 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.[8] The Crown Prince and Crown Princess have one daughter:
    • The Prince Akishino, the Emperor's second son, and second on the succession line, was born on 30 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.[9]
    • The Princess Akishino was born on 11 September 1966, the daughter of Tatsuhiko Kawashima, professor of economics at Gakushuin University.[9] Prince and Princess Akishino have two daughters and a son:
  • The Prince Hitachi was born on 28 November 1935, the second son and sixth 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 1964, the day after his wedding.[10]
  • The Princess Hitachi was born on 19 July 1940, the daughter of former Count Yoshitaka Tsugaru. Prince and Princess Hitachi have no children.[10]

The Princess Mikasa is the widow of the Prince Mikasa (2 December 1915 – 27 October 2016), the fourth son of Emperor Taishō and Empress Teimei and an uncle of Emperor Akihito. The Princess was born on 4 June 1923, the second daughter of Viscount Masanori Takagi. Princess Mikasa has two daughters and three sons with the late Prince Mikasa.[11]

  • Princess Tomohito of Mikasa is the widow of Prince Tomohito of Mikasa (5 January 1946 – 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.[11] She has two daughters with the late Prince Tomohito of Mikasa:
  • The Princess Takamado is the widow of the Prince Takamado (29 December 1954 – 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 eldest daughter of Shigejiro Tottori. She married the prince on 6 December 1984. 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 1984.[12] Princess Takamado has three daughters, two of whom remain members of the Imperial family:

Family tree[edit]

The following family tree shows the lineage of the contemporary members of the Imperial family (living members in bold). Princesses who left the imperial family upon their marriage are indicated in italics:[6]

Emperor Taishō
Empress Teimei
Emperor Shōwa
Empress Kōjun
The Prince Mikasa
The Princess Mikasa
The Emperor
The Empress
The Prince Hitachi
The Princess Hitachi
Five daughters
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[edit]

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, joining the husband's family and thus taking the surname of the husband. 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 and fourth child 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.[13]
  • Masako Sen (born 23 October 1951), second daughter and fourth child of Prince and Princess Mikasa.[13]
  • Sayako Kuroda (born 18 April 1969), third child and only daughter of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.[14]
  • Noriko Senge (born 22 July 1988), second daughter of Prince and Princess Takamado.[15]

In addition to these former princesses, there are also several people of Imperial descent in eight of the eleven cadet branches of the dynasty (Asaka, Fushimi, Higashifushimi, Higashikuni, Kan'in, Kaya, Kitashirakawa, Kuni, Nashimoto, Takeda, and Yamashina) that left the imperial family in October 1947. The Nashimoto collateral branch became extinct in the male line in 1951, followed by the Yamashina and Kan'in branches in 1987 and 1988. 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 during the New Year's Greeting at the Tokyo Imperial Palace in 2011

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 son to another of Akihito's children the issue has been left in abeyance by both the public and successive governments.

History of titles[edit]

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-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 great-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).

In 2017, a one-off law permitting the Emperor to abdicate was passed by the Diet effective April 30, 2019. Once the process is complete, he will have the revived title of "Jōkō" (上皇).

Finances of the Imperial Family[edit]

The reigning Emperor of Japan can spend £150 million ($197 million) of public money annually. Much of the imperial family's wealth was confiscated after World War II by the American occupation authorities, who viewed it as a barrier to building a democracy. When Emperor Hirohito passed away, he left personal property worth £11 million. The imperial palaces are all owned and paid for by the State of Japan.[16]

Until 2003, facts about the Japanese Imperial Family's life and spending were hidden behind the so-called Chrysanthemum Curtain. Yohei Mori (former royal correspondent for the Mainichi Shimbun and assistant professor of journalism at Seijo University) wrote a book based on 200 documents that were made available under a public information law.[16]


The Japanese Imperial Family commands a staff of more than 1,000 people (47 servants per royal). This includes a 24-piece orchestra (gagaku) with thousand-year-old instruments such as the koto and the sho, 30 gardeners, 25 chefs, 40 chauffeurs, and 78 plumbers, electricians, and builders. There are 30 archaeologists to protect the 895 imperial tombs. There is also a silkworm breeder. The Emperor has four doctors on call 24 hours a day, five men who attend to his wardrobe and 11 who assist him in Shinto rites.[16]

The main Imperial Palace in Tokyo has 160 servants who maintain it. This is partly due to demarcation rules such as a maid who wipes a table cannot also wipe the floor. There are separate stewards in charge of handling silverware and the crystal. The Kyoto Imperial Palace has a staff of 78 people. There are also 67 who care for the horses at the Tochigi ranch. There are scores more staff for the summer palaces at the beach and in the mountains.[16]


The Imperial Palace has a £2 million-a-year clinic with 42 staff and eight medical departments, but only 28 visitors a day. The room in which Crown Princess Masako gave birth to Princess Aiko was redecorated beforehand at a cost of £140,000 in 2001. Emperor Akihito spent £140,000 on building a new wine cellar, which stores 4,500 bottles of 11 types of white wine and seven types of red. When former President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa visited Japan in 2001 he was served Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1982, which costs more than £300 a bottle in 2003, and Dom Perignon 1992 champagne.[16]

Among the imperial properties is a 622-acre farm which provides milk, meat and vegetables for the imperial family at an annual cost of £3 million. The emperor and his family have a monthly water bill of approximately £50,000. A special 961-strong police force guards the imperial family and their residences at a cost of £48 million per year. There is some restraint in spending for when the emperor travels since his entourage pays just £110 a night, no matter how expensive the hotel. Hotels accept it, because none risk losing the honour of hosting the Imperial Family.[16]

Aside from the inner court (the emperor and empress, their children including the crown prince and crown princess), the civil list covers a further 19 family members who also live in imperial residences. They are not forbidden to hold other jobs or run businesses. For example, Prince Tomohito (cousin of Emperor Akihito), and his wife and two daughters receive a total of £310,000 a year, even though their royal duties are light and few Japanese know who they are.[16]

The real annual cost is estimated to be $325 million per year (2003). Per head the Japanese Imperial Family costs almost twice as much as British royals.[16]

Imperial standards[edit]

See also[edit]

Related terms[edit]


  1. ^ a b According to legend, Jimmu founded Japan in 660 BC, becoming Japan's first emperor and member of the Imperial House.
  2. ^ Seagrave, Sterling; Seagrave, Peggy (2001). The Yamato Dynasty: The Secret History of Japan's Imperial Family. Broadway Books. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-7679-0497-1.
  3. ^ D.M. (2 June 2017). "Why is the Japanese monarchy under threat?". The Economist. Retrieved 4 June 2017.
  4. ^ Hoye, Timothy (1999). Japanese Politics: Fixed and Floating Worlds. p. 78. According to legend, the first Japanese emperor was Jimmu. Along with the next 13 emperors, Jimmu is not considered an actual, historical figure. Historically verifiable Emperors of Japan date from the early sixth century with Kimmei
  5. ^ "The Imperial House Law". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  6. ^ a b "Genealogy of the Imperial Family". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  7. ^ a b "Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  8. ^ a b "Their Imperial Highnesses Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  9. ^ a b "Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Akishino and their family". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  10. ^ a b "Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Hitachi". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  11. ^ a b "Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Mikasa and their family". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  12. ^ "Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado and her family". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  13. ^ a b "Personal Histories of Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Mikasa and their family". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  14. ^ "Personal Histories of Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress". Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  15. ^ "Personal Histories of Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado and her family". Retrieved 5 January 2017.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h Colin Joyce (7 September 2003). "Book lifts the lid on Emperor's high living". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on July 10, 2018. Retrieved 27 September 2018.

External links[edit]

Imperial House of Japan
First ruling house Ruling House of Japan
660 BC–present