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The Emperor

Meiji Restoration1867
122 Emperor Mutsuhito Meiji Emperor18671912
123 Emperor Yoshihito,Taisho Emperor19121926
124 Emperor Hirohito Showa Emperor 19261989
125 Emperor Akihito Heisei Emperor19892016
126 Naruhito 201620xx
127 Prince Hisahito20xx

Japans Imperial institution has a long history that extends back to ancient times, and views on it differ from individual to individual depending on their interpretation of history and beliefs about the character of the State. The significance of the Emperor as symbol of the state is manifest in the very existence of the Emperor and in the Emperors acts in matters of state as prescribed in the Constitution. The bonds between the Emperor and the people have been further strengthened by, among other activities, his prayers for the spirits of the war dead, his tours of disaster-struck areas, his visits to welfare facilities, and his activities to foster international goodwill, as well as his traditional and cultural functions. The innate significance of the Imperial institution, in combination with the various functions that the Emperor performs, has ensured that the system of Emperor as symbol of the state has continued to enjoy the support of most of the citizenry down to the present day.

Behind the definition of the Emperor that appears in the Constitution lies the Imperial institution of history and tradition; the system of Imperial succession must therefore be one suitable to the history and tradition of the institution. Tradition assumes many forms. Many traditions relating to the Imperial succession go back centuries, but then there are also the traditions of the Imperial institution that have evolved in the context of the system of the Emperor as symbol of the state that emerged after the War. Traditions may also vary greatly in character depending on, say, whether they allow for exceptions or how binding are the norms they impose. Nor are traditions necessarily immutable. The choices made by the people of each age remain behind in the form of tradition, and new traditions are born as such choices accumulate.

Until the enactment of the old Imperial House Law (the "Meiji Imperial House Law) during the Meiji period in 1889, no written provisions existed governing the Imperial succession. Amidst the varying value systems and social conditions of different eras, the Throne was always inherited by individuals of male lineage who were of Imperial blood and belonged to the Imperial family. Almost half were of illegitimate descent. There have also been eight female Emperors (of male lineage), accounting for ten separate reigns among them, but it is not possible to generalize about their positions. The Meiji Imperial House Law, which for the first time set out clear provisions on the Imperial succession in an attempt to ensure the stability of the Imperial institution by avoiding succession disputes, restricted eligibility for the Throne to males of male lineage (including those of illegitimate descent).

In 1687, the Emperor Reigen abdicated in favor of Higashiyama, then a boy of thirteen. Reigen continuing to administer affairs from "behind the curtain" as was usual. Higashiyama abdicated (1710) in favor of Nakanomikado, who reigned for twenty-five years. This reign was remarkable for a change in the system hitherto uniformly pursued, namely, that all Imperial princes with the exception of the direct heir should become Buddhist priests (ho-shinno), and all princesses except those chosen as consorts of the shoguns, should become Buddhist nuns (bikuni-gosho). After the death of the ex-Emperor Reigen (1732), the Emperor Nakanomikado administered affairs himself during three years, and then abdicated in 1735 in favor of Sakuramachi, who was sixteen years of age, and who reigned until 1747, when he abdicated in favor of Momozono, then seven years of age.

The Emperor Momozono died in 1762 after having administered the Government for sixteen years. His eldest son, Prince Hidehito, being a mere baby, it was decided that Princess Tomo, Momozono's elder sister, should occupy the throne, Prince Hidehito becoming the Crown Prince. Her Majesty is known in history as Go-Sakuramachi. Her reign lasted only eight years, and in 1770 she abdicated in favour of her nephew, Hidehito, who ascended the throne as the Emperor Go-Momozono and died after a reign of nine years. This exhausted the lineal descendants of the Emperor Nakanomikado.

The current Imperial House Law, which was enacted in 1947, added the provision that candidates for the Throne must be of legitimate birth. As a result, the present system of Imperial succession is the most stringent in history. The current Imperial House Law requires that candidates for the Throne be of imperial descent, that they be of legitimate birth, that they be males of male lineage, and that they belong to the Imperial Family.

There has been but one dynasty in Japan. In comparison, the last emperor of China was of the 23d or 24th dynasty. The literature of Shinto (Way of the Gods) employs much mythology to describe the supposed historical origins of Japan. According to the creation story found in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters, dating from AD 712) and the Nihongi or Nihon shoki (Chronicle of Japan, from A.D. 720), the Japanese islands were created by the gods, two of whom--the male Izanagi and the female Izanami--descended from heaven to carry out the task. They also brought into being other kami (deities or supernatural forces), such as those influencing the sea, rivers, wind, woods, and mountains. Two of these deities, the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, and her brother, the Storm God, Susano-o, warred against each other, with Amaterasu emerging victorious.

Subsequently Amaterasu sent her grandson, Ninigi, to rule over the sacred islands. Ninigi took with him what became the three imperial regalia -- a curved jewel (magatama), a mirror, and a "sword of gathered clouds" -- and ruled over the island of Kyushu. Ninigi's great-grandson, Jimmu, recognized as the first human emperor of Japan, set out to conquer Yamato. On the main island of Honshu, according to tradition he established the unbroken line of imperial descent from the Sun Goddess and founded the Land of the Rising Sun in 660 BC.

Gradually, from the inchoate elements of an Oriental civilization, was built up a dual empire, having as its sovereign heads a Mikado or Tenno, whose sway was spiritual and divine, and a Shogun or Tycoon, or temporal emperor. Of these, however, the original sole ruler was the Mikado, and from 663 BC, when Jimnu founded the throne of the Mikados, until the end of the twelfth century of the Christian era, the spiritual emperor reigned supreme.

Eventually, the entanglements of the central power with that of the feudal princes caused the creation of the office and rank of military chieftain, or generalissimo; and this office, in time, became endowed with all the civil and military domination of the empire. Little by little, the secular power was taken from the Mikado.In 1192 Minamoto Yoritomo [b. 1147 d.1199] began the double system which lasted in Japan down to the middle of the nineteenth century. He erected a puppet emperor or Mikado of the sacred royal race, and gave him for his residence the ancient and beautiful capital of Kyoto. Then Yoritomo had himself created Shogun" or general-in-chief, with complete control of military affairs.

But if the Mikado was thus withdrawn from all participation in affairs of State, his ecclesiastical position was more exalted, and his divine attributes more pronounced and awful. According to the Shinto faith, the established religion of Japan, the Mikado was of divine origin. To be sure, there were five primeval deities, the chief of which was the Goddess of the Sun; but there is an innumerable company of born gods and deified mortals, most of whom are inferior to the Mikado, and in certain regular seasons they must wait upon him; during those occasions the temples are deserted and godless, only empty effigies remaining. The person of the Mikado was so sacred that he must dwell in utter seclusion, not touching the ground, or permitting his hair or nails to be trimmed, lest his body be desecrated. The vessels used in his service were immediately thereafter destroyed, lest they be touched by ordinary mortals. When he passed up into the heavens (i.e., died), a small and highly select company of the noblest of the land were permitted to commit hari-kari, thus happily despatching themselves in the train of the Vicar of Heaven on his way to his highest glory.

By the year 1000, Fujiwara Michinaga was able to enthrone and dethrone emperors at will. As the Son of Heaven, directly descended from mythic gods, and as chief priest and embodiment of all supernatural qualities in the national religion, Shinto, the emperor provides an icon of divine purity is handy to solve power struggles. In the past, Japanese strongmen who held the emperor hostage claimed that they derived their office from the throne (meaning from the gods). Anyone who challenged their rule was not only treasonous but blasphemous, deserving terrible punishment. For eight centuries Japan's emperors were kept hostage by military regimes, and defiant emperors were roughly treated.

The internal history of Japan during the period of time covered by the actual or nominal rule of the thirteen shoguns of the Ashikaga family, from 1336 until 1573 is not very attractive to a foreign reader. It is a confused picture of intestine war. The condition of the emperors was deplorable. With no revenues, and dwelling in a capital alternately in the possession of one or the other hostile army; in frequent danger from thieves, fire, or starvation; exposed to the weather or the dangers of war, the narrative of their sufferings excites pity in the mind of even a foreign reader, and from the native draws the tribute of tears. One was so poor that he depended upon the bounty of a noble for his food and clothing; another died in such poverty that his body lay unburied for several days, for lack of money to have him interred.

And in 1585, Taikosama, one of the great military heroes of Japanese history, founded the Shogunate or Tycoonate, and the separation of lay and spiritual power was complete. The remembrance of the wrongs and sufferings of these poor emperors fired the hearts and nerved the arms of the men who in 1868 fought to sweep away forever the hated system by which such treatment of their sovereign became possible.




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