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Who are the Japanese Emperors?

By Brentyn, published on 14/06/2019 Blog > Languages > Japanese > Learning More About the Famous Emperors of Japan

“Follow the road behind the Emperor. We must build the world for Japan’s sake, heaven ordered Japan to complete this great mission.” -Kingoro Hashimoto

For the Japanese, traditional customs are significant and are still followed by many today.

The culture, ancient practices, and history are what attract foreigners to the land of the rising sun. 

Recent estimates have shown that over 14,000 people from the UK are residing in Japan with more than 5,300 of this number living in Tokyo.

Nevertheless, it is essential to state that before moving abroad to another country, it is paramount to learn more about the culture and history of the land where you will be residing. 

The desire of moving to Japan to observe Mount Fuji from close, eat sushi whenever you want, drink sake at local bars, and see the incomparable beauty of the cherry blossoms are brilliant reasons to seek employment on the Japanese island; nevertheless, learning a bit more history will help you fit in with the natives.

For example, do you have any previous knowledge about Japanese emperors? No need to fret, Superprof will provide all interested ones with a basic history of all the emperors and empresses that have reigned supreme throughout decades.

Who Leads Japan and What Role Does the Emperor Serve?

the best aspects of Japanese culture The Japanese emperor is head of state and leader of Shintoism. (Source: pixabay)

Japan is a constitutional monarchy. Therefore, the Japanese government is divided into three branches, like most democratic nations:

  • Executive power,
  • Legislative power,
  • Judiciary power.

Japan has been operating under these three branches of government since the introduction of Japan’s 1947 post-war constitution. There are 47 administrative divisions, and the Emperor is the head of the state. However, it is essential to note that as in the UK with the Queen of England, the monarch has only a symbolic role.

The Japanese emperor has no power in the government; instead, it is headed by the cabinet of Japan, which comprises of the ministers of state and the prime minister.

The prime minister, currently Shinzo Abe, is chosen by the National Diet, the legislative power whose members are directly elected by the people, and appointed to office by the emperor.

The Japanese emperor plays the role of being head of state, the symbol of the state, and the head of the Shinto Religion, which is the oldest in the country and closely related to Japanese mythology.

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Where Does the Emperor of Japan Live?

The emperor resides in Kokyo, which is an imperial palace in the centre of Tokyo that is near significant government buildings. His family takes up residence in the Akasaka Palace that is located nearby.

The daily life of the emperor and his family is managed by the Imperial Agency, which controls their schedules and properties. 

Until recently, the emperor of Japan was Akihito, who succeeded to the Chrysanthemum throne upon the death of his father. However, since Akihito’s abdication on April 30 of this year because of advanced age and declining health, he has been succeeded by his eldest son Naruhito.

Tours may be organised to visit the Imperial Palace and its gardens.

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Legendary Japanese Emperors (660 BC to 269 AD)

the best rulers The exact facts and dates cannot be specifically proven for the group of legendary emperors. (Source: PicsWe)

Known by many historians for being the oldest dynasty in the world with origins from the 7th century BCE, the legendary age of emperors lasted from 660BC to 229 AD. The first official emperor of Japan was Jinmu, the supposed grandson of the goddess Amaterasu.

Until 1945, the emperor was the absolute leader of Japan. Considered by the people as a god and representative of the Shinto religion. The so-called legendary emperors have been inscribed in the Kojiki, “records of ancient matters.” It is an old book and collection of myths about the origin of Japan and the formation of the country’s islands.

The group of legendary emperors are called this way since the dates are impossible to verify and some claim that their existence is unsure. Without further ado, the following is a list of the legendary emperors of Japan:

  • Jimmu: 660-585 BC,
  • Suizei: 581-549 BC,
  • Annei: 549-511 BC,
  • Itoku: 510-476 BC,
  • Kosho: 475-393 BC,
  • Koan: 392-291 BC,
  • Korei: 290-215 BC,
  • Kogen: 214-158 BC,
  • Kaika: 157-98 BC,
  • Sujin: 97-30 BC,
  • Suinin: 29 BC-70 AD,
  • Keiko: 71-130 AD,
  • Seimu: 131-191 AD,
  • Chuai: 192-200 AD.

Although records have shown that empress Jingu ruled from 201-269 AD, according to mythological beliefs, she was removed from the list by Emperor Meiji.

It is essential to state that the emperors of Japan are strongly linked to mythology, which is why it is challenging to be officially sure of the existence of the “legendary” emperors.

Nevertheless, since records of these emperors were written in ancient writings, they are involved in the foundation of Japanese society.

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Historical Emperors of Japan

The first emperor, whose reign has been proven and is secure is Emperor Ojin. According to past reports, his reign lasted from 270-310 AD. He was consecrated as Hachiman, the god of war and divine protector of Japan.

Japanese Antiquity

Emperor Ojin succeeded many emperors during the period called Japanese antiquity which extends from 400-1198 AD. The following sub-periods can separate the Japanese antiquity:

  • Kofun Period: 400 to 539,
  • Asuka Period: 539 to 715,
  • Nara Period: 710-794,
  • Heian Period: 794-1185.

Nevertheless, as we previously stated the dates of emperors rules from the past as difficult to correctly verify. The emperor that is succeeded is from the same family as the previous one; however, it is not always the eldest son that is selected to become emperor.

It is quite common for the last son to succeed his father, who is distinct from dynasties in Europe during the Middle Ages. 

In some situations, sometimes a cousin or an uncle may become emperor.

During the Asuka and Nara ages, women could assume the top position and become Empress. Nevertheless, in recent years, it is forbidden for a woman to be named Empress.

From 794 AD, even if the emperor remains the head of state and guardian of ancient traditions, another leader occupies a prominent position: the shogun. This title is hereditary. It is essential to state that the last shogunate was Tokugawa since the tradition was abandoned under the Meiji era in 1868 when the emperor regained complete control.

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The Feudal Era

The feudal era occurred in Japan from 1198 until the arrival of Emperor Meiji in 1852, or according to some even after the Second World War.

Known as the Samurai era since the 1600s but referred to as Buke during the Kamakura era. 

The title samurai is only used today as an honorific name that no longer gives rise to privileges as it did in the past. 

Japan has always been a significant Asian power, and the study of ancient emperors can be learned with qualified Japanese tutors in the UK. Also, it is essential to state that after the death of an emperor, it is the crown prince or a member of the royal family that takes place as Japan’s leader.

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The Modern Era

After the era of Edo, the land of the rising sun is modernised, and the three following emperors mark the pre-modern era:

  • Meiji: 1867 to 1912,
  • Taisho: 1912 to 1926,
  • Showa: 1926 to 1945.

The period that can be indeed known as the modern era only started after WWII. The Japanese empire was forced to give up during the war, especially after the events of Pearl Harbour, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.

Japan was forced to abandon its traditional government from pressure from the Western World, especially the United States, and switch to modernity. 

However, during the turbulent post-war period, Japan’s emperor Showa continued to reign from 1945-1989 and was succeeded at the time of his death. Showa’s son, Akihito, succeeded him in 1989 becoming the 125th emperor of Japan and will be known as Emperor Hensei when he dies.

Since the abdication of Akihito, at the end of April, his son Naruhito became the reigning emperor.

Why Did Akihito Abdicate?

the new and vibrant emperor Akihito resigned from being emperor because of many health problems. (Source: BBC)

The world, and especially Japan, were taken by storm when the news broke that Akihito wanted to abdicate since this has not happened in over 200 years.

The last known abdication took place in 1817, and it was Emperor Kokaku. 

But why did Akihito want to abdicate and leave his position as emperor? 

Abdication news puzzles Japanese traditionalists since it is expected that the emperor assumes his position until his death. However, 85-year-old Akihito has faced many health problems such as colon cancer in 2003 and coronary bypass surgery in 2012.

It was back in 2016 that Emperor Akihito announced his abdication, and he said: “I am worried about fulfilling my duties as a symbol of the state.”

Since his abdication, Akihito no longer feels the pressure of completing his challenging daily tasks while at the same time dealing with his struggling health. Also, it is essential to state that notable mistakes were made during ceremonies which embarrassed the former emperor.

Akihito abdicated the throne on April 30, 2019, and left his place to his eldest son, Naruhito who is 57 years old. The country of Japan will thus enter a new era with a younger and more vibrant emperor. It is essential to state that the current emperor Naruhito, is very popular among the Japanese people.

Although discreet, the royal family is known for their excellent reputation among Japan’s citizens and the press. 

Therefore, the abdication of Akihito was well received and supported by the majority of the Japanese public. Popular support helped President Shinzo Abe reinforce the government and their overall opinion of the abdication.

The coronation of the new emperor took place on May 1st of this year in Tokyo, a day after the renunciation of the throne by Akihito.

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Definitions

During the modern era, the emperor is not allowed to rule. His role is purely symbolic such as the King or Queen of England. However, as we have seen in today’s article, this has not always been the case because, before 1945, the Japanese emperor was a true clan leader and commander of the country.

What is “Shogun”?

The term shogun means “general” when translated from Japanese to English. For a few centuries, 12th to 19th, the shogun was the real leader of Japan, and he was the general-in-chief of the armies.

What is Shintoism?

Shintoism is the most practised religion in Japan and can be defined as a set of polytheistic and animistic beliefs. It is also the oldest religion in Japan. The term Shinto appeared to differentiate itself from Buddhism that was imported to Japan by the Chinese in the 7th century.

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