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Imperial Household of Japan

The imperial household of Japan (also referred to as the imperial family or koshitsu) refers those members of the extended family of the reigning Emperor of Japan who undertake official and public duties, as well as their minor children. Under the present Constitution of Japan, the emperor is the symbol of the state and unity of the people. The other members of the imperial family perform ceremonial and social duties, but have no role in the affairs of government.

The Japanese monarchy is the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world. The imperial household recognizes one hundred twenty-five legitimate monarchs since the ascension of Jimmu Tennō. Most historians regard the first fourteen emperors (Jimmu to Chuai) as legendary figures. The reigning emperor, Akihito, is the one hundred twenty-fifth monarch in the official chronology.

Table of contents
1 Current Members of the Imperial Family
2 Living Former Members of the Imperial Family
3 Succession
4 Related terms
5 External Links

Current Members of the Imperial Family

The 1947 Imperial Household Law defines the imperial household as: the empress (kōgō), the empress dowager (kotaigo), the grand empress dowager (go-kotaigo), the crown prince (kotaishi) and his consort, the imperial grandson who is heir apparent (kotaison) and his consort, the shinnō and their consorts, the naishinnō, the ō and their consorts, and the nyoō. The legitimate children and male line grandchildren of an emperor are shinnō (imperial princes) in the case of males and naishinnō (imperial princesses) in the case of females. More distant male line descendants are ō (princes) or nyoō (princesses).

After the removal of eleven families from the imperial household in October 1947, the official membership of the imperial family has effectively been limited to the male line descendants of the Emperor Taisho, excluding females who married outside the imperial family and their descendants. There are presently twenty-three members of the imperial family. Their personal names appear in parentheses:

Living Former Members of the Imperial Family

Under the terms of the 1947 Imperial Household Law, naishinnō (imperial princesses) and nyoō (princesses) lose their titles and membership in the imperial family upon marriage, unless they marry the Emperor or another member of the imperial family. Three of the five daugthers of Emperor Shōwa and the two daughters of Prince Mikasa left the imperial family upon marriage, taking the surnames of their husbands. (The eldest daughter of Emperor Shōwa married the eldest son of Prince Higashikuni Naruhiko in 1943. The Higashikuni family lost its imperial status along with the other collateral branches of the imperial household in October 1947). The living former imperial princesses (whose personal names are in parentheses) are:

In addition to these former princesses, there are also descendants 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 household in October 1947.


Historically, the succession to Japan's Chrysanthemum Throne has generally passed to male descendants in the imperial lineage. In part, the Japanese imperial dynasty owes its longevity to the use of concubines, a practice that only ended in the Taishō period (1912-1926). The Japanese monarchy also relied on the specially designated collateral lines or shinnōke (shinnō houses). If the imperial household failed to produce an heir, one of the shinnōke could provide the future emperor. There were four such collateral lines in the Edo period: Fushimi, Katsura, Arisugawa, and Kan'in. Emperor Kokaku (reigned 1780-1817), the lineal descendant of all subsequent emperors, was a scion of the Kan'in house. The Katsura and Arisugawa houses died out in 1881 and 1913, respectively. A scion of the Fushimi house succeeded to the Kan'in house in 1884. The Fushimi house was the progenitor of nine other cadet branches (ōke) of the imperial family during the Meiji period. It and its offshoots were reduced to commoner status in 1947.

Before the Meiji Restoration, Japan had six female tennō or reigning empresses. Imperial daughters and granddaughters, however, only ascended the throne as a "stop gap" measure. Each abdicated once a suitable male descendant in the male line of imperial descendants became available. Three empresses regnant, Suiko, Kogyoku, and Jito, were widows of deceased emperors and princesses of the blood royal in their own right. One, Gemmei, was the wife of a crown prince and a princess of the blood royal. The other four, Gensho, Koken (Shotoku), Meisho and Go-Sakuramachi, were the unwed daughters of previous emperors. None of theses empresses gave birth or married after ascending the throne.

Article 2 of the 1889 Meiji Constitution (or Constitution of the Empire of Japan) stated, "The Imperial Throne shall be succeeded to by Imperial male descendants, according to the provisions of the Imperial House Law." The 1889 Imperial Household Law fixed the succession on male descendants of the imperial line, and specifically excluded female descendants from the succession. In the event of a complete failure of the main line, the throne would pass to the nearest collateral branch, again in the male line. If the empress did not give birth to an heir, the emperor could take a concubine, and the son he had by that concubine would be recognized as heir to the throne. This law, which was promulgated on the same day as the Meiji Constitution, enjoyed co-equal status with that constitution.

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 16 January 1947, enacted by the ninety-second and last session of the Imperial Diet, retained the exclusion on female dynasts found in the 1889 law. The government of Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru hastily cobbled together the legislation to bring the Imperial Household 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 imperial princesses and princess lose their status as imperial family members if they marry outside the imperial family; and that the Emperor and other members of the imperial family may not adopt children.

There is a potential succession crisis since no male child has 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 Household Law to allow women to succeed to the throne. As of July 2003, however, the National Diet has not enacted such an amendment.

The order of succession is as follows:

  1. His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Naruhito
  2. His Imperial Highness Prince Akishino (Fumihito)
  3. His Imperial Highness Prince Hitachi (Masahito)
  4. His Imperial Highness Prince Mikasa (Takahito)
  5. His Imperial Highness Prince Tomohito of Mikasa
  6. His Imperial Highness Prince Katsura (Yoshihito)

Related terms

Emperor of Japan, emperor, empress, crown prince, royal family, monarchy, monarch, prince, princess, order of succession

External Links