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Emperor of Japan

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The role of the Emperor of Japan (天皇, tennō) was that of an imperial ruler, from the dawn of history until the mid-twentieth century. Under Japan's modern constitution, the emperor is now a largely titular head of state (see Politics of Japan).

Certain dates and details may be in dispute among Japanese historians. Even a quick perusal shows that some of the people mentioned here died at a very young age and can hardly be said to have "ruled" in any serious sense of the word. Others were overshadowed by their predecessors, who had ostensibly retired to a monastery but continued to exert influence in a process called "cloistered rule". It is nevertheless important to maintain the entire list, because the dating the reigns of emperors is the standard way of referencing Japanese history.

The emperor's role is defined in Chapter I of the 1947 Constitution of Japan. Article 1 defines the emperor as the symbol of state. Article 7 gives the emperor power to perform the functions of head of state subject to the advice and approval of the cabinet. In contrast with other constitutional monarchs, the emperor of Japan has no reserve powers.

Although the Emperor performs many of the roles of a head of state, there has been a persistent controversy within Japan as to whether the Emperor is in fact head of state or merely someone who acts as head of state. Efforts in the 1950s by conservative powers to amend the constitution to explicitly name the Emperor as head of state were rejected. However, the Emperor performs the diplomatic functions normally associated with a head of state and is recognized as such by foreign powers.

Although the Emperor has been a symbol of continuity with the past, the amount of power exercised by the Emperor of Japan has varied considerably across Japanese history, for example, from 1600 to 1868, the real power was in the hands of the shoguns, who nevertheless were in ceremonial theory always successively invested with their authority by the emperor. By the constitution of 1889, the emperor of Japan transferred a large part of his former powers as absolute monarch to the representatives of the people, but as head of the empire.


After Japan's surrender to Allied forces ending WWII, the status of the 'Emperor' title became a ceremonial title only, while power resides in a legislative body; similar to the British monarchy. US General Douglas MacArthur insisted that Hirohito remain Emperor to keep him as a symbol of continuity and cohesion within Japanese society. Despite Truman's desire to have Hirohito tried for war crimes, Truman consented, and Hirohito kept his status, though was forced to disavow the emperor's previous claims of being a "living god[?]." Controversy still remains as to the role Hirohito played in commanding Japanese forces during the Sino-Japanese War and WWII.

Succession is regulated by a law passed by the Japanese Diet. This law currently excludes females from the succession despite the historical existence of female occupants to the throne. (In the following list, the empress regnants are those with an asterisk after their reigning periods.)

Naming Due to language and cultural difference between Japanese and the Western world, naming the Emperors of Japan is often troublesome. While scholastic texts in Japan use "{name} tennou" consistently, in texts by English-speaking academic several variants are used altogether and it seems there is no one concrete convention agreed yet. Among them are Emperor {name}, {name} the Emperor and {name} Tenno.

The Emperor of Japan is known to the Westerners as Mikado (御門/帝/みかど), which literally means "exalted gate", but this is obsolete in Japanese. In Japanese, the emperors of Japan, but not of other countries, are known as tennō (天), which literally means "heavenly emperor/godking". Sumeramikoto was also used in Old Japanese.

East Asians generally think it discourteous to call a person of noble rank by given name. This convention is almost dead but still observed for the imperial family. In fact the Emperor is never to be referred to by name (imina) unless he/she is dissident. Instead, past emperors are called by posthumous names (shigō or tsuigō) such as Jimmu, Kammu and Meiji. Since the Meiji era, era names are also used as posthumous names. The current emperor on the throne is almost always referred to as Tennō Heika (天皇陛下 lit. His Majesty the Emperor) or less commonly as Kinjō Tennō (今上天皇). Of course, the current Emperor is not called by the current era name, in other words, posthumous name. In English, the recent emperors are called by their personal names according to Western convention. As explained above, in Japanese it would be offensive. For example, the 124th emperor is called Hirohito in English, but is always referred to as Shōwa Tennō in Japanese.

See List of Japanese Emperors

See also: shogun -- bakufu -- Cloistered rule -- History of Japan -- Lists of incumbents

This article contains material from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica's article "Mikado (http://96.1911encyclopedia.org/M/MI/MIKADO.htm)". See "Older versions" for the revision history.

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