Many people contact us with questions about Japan's Imperial Family. Rather than emailing people back individually, we are capturing the questions and answers on this page. This is a living document, meaning that new questions and answers will be added to it all the time!
|What is the role of the Imperial Family in Japan?|
|Who is the present Emperor of Japan?|
|What is the Japanese Imperial Family's last name?|
|How do you address the Imperial Family?|
|Why do the Emperor's daughters or sisters lose their titles if they marry a commoner?|
|How long has the Imperial Family been on the throne? How did Japan's Imperial Family start?|
|Is the Japanese Imperial Family very wealthy?|
|Is it true that the Emperor was considered to be a God?|
|How did Japan get its name "land of the rising sun?"|
|What does the Japanese flag mean?|
|What is the Imperial Family's coat of arms? What is Japan's national emblem?|
Q: What is the role of the Imperial Family in Japan?
’s post-war Constitution, the emperor is merely a symbol of the state. He is a purely ceremonial figure and has no political powers at all. He plays no role in the government and can only perform those ceremonial acts which are listed in the Constitution. A few examples are: awarding honours; meeting foreign diplomats, heads of state, or politicians; and making occasional ceremonial speeches. Even then, he may only perform those actions if the cabinet approves. Japan
Q: Who is the present Emperor of Japan?
A: The present emperor is H.I.M. Emperor Akihito. He is the 125th Emperor of Japan and was born in 1933 to Emperor Hirohito (or Showa) and Empress Nagako. Emperor Akihito ascended the throne on
January 7, 1989. He is married to Empress Michiko, and they have three children, the eldest of whom is Crown Prince Naruhito.
Q: What is the Japanese Imperial Family's last name?
A: Unlike many European royal families (e.g., the Windsors), the Japanese Imperial Family has no surname. As a result, when a woman marries into the family, she loses her last name. In many instances, she is known by a feminized version of her husband’s first name. Thus, Princess Kiko, the wife of the Emperor’s second son, Prince Akishino, is sometimes known as Princess Akishino. The situation is analogous to that in
where, for example, the wife of Prince Michael of Great Britain is known as Princess Michael. Kent
Q: How do you address the Imperial Family?
A: The Emperor and his consort, the Empress, are styled as their Imperial Majesties. The Emperor’s mother is similarly styled and addressed. The Emperor’s male children and their spouses are Imperial Highnesses. The Emperor’s female children are Imperial Highnesses, unless they marry a commoner. (See below).
Q: Why do the Emperor's daughters or sisters lose their titles if they marry a commoner?
A: The structure and size of the Imperial Family changed after WWII. Before that time, there were numerous imperial princes and princesses, many of whom belonged to cadet or collateral branches of the Imperial Family. After the war, the occupying allies wanted to reduce the size of the Imperial Family, partly to limit the amount of money that they would receive from the government. The result was the 1947 Imperial Household Law which narrowed the legal definition of the Imperial Family. Under its terms, only the legitimate descendants of an emperor in the legitimate male line had imperial status. The result was that only the immediate family of Emperor Hirohito (or Showa) and those of his three brothers had imperial status. Everyone else, especially those in the junior, collateral branches of the Imperial Family, would lose their imperial rank and become ordinary tax-paying citizens. Neither they nor their children were part of the Imperial Family anymore. The 1947 Imperial Household law also stated that any females who married outside of the family lost their imperial rank; both they and their descendents would become tax-paying commoners without any imperial privileges or rights.
Q: How long has the Imperial Family been on the throne? How did Japan's Imperial Family start?
A: The Japanese Imperial Family is the longest reigning dynasty in the world. The first known Emperor was Jimmu who lived from 660 B.C. to 585 B.C. The Imperial Family is therefore approximately 2,600 years old.
Q: Is the Japanese Imperial Family very wealthy?
A: No. The Imperial Family has few private assets of its own. After
’s defeat in WWII, the occupying allies confiscated all of Emperor Hirohito’s property, assets and money as punishment for Japan ’s actions during the war. It is said that the Imperial Family was worth billions before the war. Now, the Imperial Family depends on an annual stipend which they receive from the Imperial Household Agency (“IHA”) in an amount determined by the government. Japan
Q: Is is true that the Emperor was considered to be a God?
A: Yes. The Japanese believe that Emperor Jimmu descended from the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, who created
. All subsequent Japanese emperors have claimed descent from Emperor Jimmu and, as a result, they were revered as a living God. In 1946, Emperor Hirohito renounced his divinity by publicly announcing, “I am no more divine. I am a human. Japan
Q: How did Japan get its name "land of the rising sun?"
A: Japan lies to the east of the European continent, and beyond
lies the Japan Pacific Ocean. When you look towards the east, is in the direction of the sunrise. As a result, the Japanese began to call their country Nihon or Japan Nippon, literally meaning “source of the sun.” In English, the term is often translated as “land of the rising sun.”
Q. What does the Japanese flag mean?
A: Japan’s flag is called the Hinomaru in Japanese. It means “circle of the sun.” It symbolized the sun rising in the sky and, as a result, is commonly considered to be the flag of the rising sun. The flag first appeared many centuries ago, perhaps as early as the 12th century. In the early part of the 20th century, it was often seen as a symbol of imperial power, militarism, and nationalistic expansion. In 1999, the Japanese government officially adopted it as the country’s national flag.
Q. What is the Imperial Family's coat of arms? What is Japan's national emblem?
A. The Japanese Imperial family does not have a coat of arms or heraldic device like the European monarchies. It does, however, have a crest which is the chrysanthemum and which is used on the cover of passports for Japanese citizens.
has no national emblem per se. Japan