10 Things You Didn't Know About THE JAPANESE EMPEROR 天皇

10 Things You Didn't Know About THE JAPANESE EMPEROR 天皇

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12 Things You Didn't Know About Japanese Culture

It’s been more than 150 years since Japan opened its ports to the Western world after centuries of isolation, yet some things about it still mystify us. Here are 12 things you probably didn’t know about Japanese culture.


Unlike many constitutional monarchs, the emperor is not the nominal chief executive. Most constitutional monarchies formally vest executive power in the monarch, but the monarch is bound by convention to act on the advice of the cabinet. In contrast, Article 65 of the Constitution of Japan explicitly vests executive power in the Cabinet, of which the prime minister is the leader. The emperor is also not the commander-in-chief of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. The Japan Self-Defense Forces Act of 1954 explicitly vests this role with the prime minister.

The emperor's powers are limited only to important ceremonial functions. Article 4 of the Constitution stipulates that the emperor "shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in the Constitution and he shall not have powers related to government." It also stipulates that "the advice and approval of the Cabinet shall be required for all acts of the Emperor in matters of state" (Article 3). Article 4 also states that these duties can be delegated by the Emperor as provided for by law.

While the emperor formally appoints the prime minister to office, Article 6 of the Constitution requires him to appoint the candidate "as designated by the Diet", without giving the emperor the right to decline appointment.

Article 6 of the Constitution delegates to the emperor the following ceremonial roles:

  1. Appointment of the Prime Minister as designated by the Diet.
  2. Appointment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as designated by the Cabinet.

The emperor's other duties are laid down in Article 7 of the Constitution, where it is stated that "the Emperor, with the advice and approval of the Cabinet, shall perform the following acts in matters of state on behalf of the people." In practice, all of these duties are exercised only in accordance with the binding instructions of the Cabinet:

  1. Promulgation of amendments of the constitution, laws, cabinet orders, and treaties.
  2. Convocation of the Diet.
  3. Dissolution of the House of Representatives.
  4. Proclamation of general election of members of the Diet.
  5. Attestation of the appointment and dismissal of Ministers of State and other officials as provided for by law, and of full powers and credentials of Ambassadors and Ministers.
  6. Attestation of general and special amnesty, commutation of punishment, reprieve, and restoration of rights.
  7. Awarding of honors.
  8. Attestation of instruments of ratification and other diplomatic documents as provided for by law.
  9. Receiving foreign ambassadors and ministers.
  10. Performance of ceremonial functions.

Regular ceremonies of the emperor with a constitutional basis are the Imperial Investitures (Shinninshiki) in the Tokyo Imperial Palace and the Speech from the Throne ceremony in the House of Councillors in the National Diet Building. The latter ceremony opens ordinary and extra sessions of the Diet. Ordinary sessions are opened each January and also after new elections to the House of Representatives. Extra sessions usually convene in the autumn and are opened then. Ζ] [ non-primary source needed ]

The sins of the father

Emperor Akihito does not have the appearance of a revolutionary. He is small, modest and softly spoken. His words and actions are tightly constrained by Japan's post-war constitution and, while under international law the emperor is usually recognised as the head of state, in Japan his role is defined as a much more vaguely worded "symbol of the state and unity of the people".

He is banned from expressing any political opinion.

And yet within the tight straitjacket of his ceremonial role, Emperor Akihito has managed to do some remarkable things.

The first thing you need to remember is that Akihito is the son of Hirohito, the god-like emperor who reigned over Japan during its nearly 15-year rampage across Asia in the 1930s and 40s. Akihito was 12 when the war ended with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

At some point in his education, some say under the influence of his American tutor Elizabeth Gray Vining, Akihito became a confirmed pacifist, and he remains so today. He has told people his greatest contentment comes from knowing that during his reign, not a single Japanese soldier has been killed in war or armed conflict.

The emperor has made it his job to reach out to Japan's former enemies and victims. From Beijing to Jakarta, Manila to Saipan, he has sought to heal the wounds inflicted under his father.

"He created a new role for the emperor, and that is the nation's chief emissary for reconciliation, criss-crossing the region, making gestures of atonement and contrition. Basically, trying to heal the scars of wartime past," says Prof Kingston.

In the 1990s that was relatively uncontroversial. Japanese politicians encouraged the emperor, arranging a landmark trip to China in 1992. But as he has grown older, Japanese politics has moved dramatically to the right.

The old "apology diplomacy" is out of favour, as is pacifism. The current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, had vowed to rid Japan of its pacifist constitution. He and others on the right want to bring back patriotic education, and expunge what they call the "historical masochism" of the post-war era.

In subtle, but determined ways, Emperor Akihito has repeatedly shown his disdain for the revisionists. In 2015, on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, Mr Abe gave a speech.

"He basically said that the peace and prosperity we enjoy today is owing to the sacrifice of the three million Japanese who died during the war," says Prof Kingston.

"The next day, Akihito was having none of that. He made a speech saying the prosperity we enjoy today is down to the hard work and sacrifice of the Japanese people after the war."

To the millions of Japanese watching on TV, it was an unmistakable slapdown.

On another occasion at a royal garden party in Tokyo, a right-wing member of the Tokyo metropolitan government proudly told the emperor that he was in charge of making sure all teachers stand and face the flag when they sing the national anthem.

The emperor gently but emphatically admonished the bureaucrat.

"I am in favour of individual choice," he said.

7 Western Samurai

Readers who have seen the movie The Last Samurai might know that under special circumstances, someone outside Japan could fight alongside the samurai, and even become one himself. This special honor (which included samurai weapons and a new, Japanese name) could only be bestowed by powerful leaders, such as daimyos (territorial lords) or the shogun (warlord) himself.

History knows four Western men who have been granted the dignity of the samurai: adventurer William Adams, his colleague Jan Joosten van Lodensteijn, Navy officer Eugene Collache, and arms dealer Edward Schnell. Out of the four, Adams was the first and the most influential: he served as a bannerman and advisor to the Shogun himself. Amusingly, neither of the people Tom Cruise&rsquos Last Samurai character was based on (Frederick Townsend Ward and Jules Brunet) were ever made samurai.

6 Japanese Soldiers Once Cut Off Ears And Noses For War Trophies

Under the legendary leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Japan invaded Korea two times between 1592 and 1598. Although Japan eventually withdrew its troops from the country, the invasions were very brutal, with a possible death toll numbering as many as one million Koreans.

During that time, it wasn&rsquot uncommon for Japanese warriors to take the heads of their enemies as war trophies. Shipping so many heads back to Japan would have been difficult, though, so the soldiers took ears and noses instead.

Once back in Japan, monuments were set up for the grisly trophies that were known as &ldquoear tombs&rdquo and &ldquonose tombs.&rdquo One such tomb in Kyoto, the Mimizuka, contains tens of thousands of trophies. Another in Okayama held 20,000 noses, but these were returned to Korea in 1992.

Imperial Japan

It is Japan's mission to be supreme in Asia, the South Seas and eventually the four corners of the world.

General Sadao Araki

When Emperor Hirohito ascended to the throne in 1926, Japan was enveloped in a struggle between liberals and leftists on one side, and ultraconservatives on the other. In 1925, universal male suffrage was introduced, increasing the electorate from 3.3 to 12.5 million. Yet as the left pushed for further democratic reforms, right-wing politicians pushed for legislation to ban organisations that threatened the state by advocating wealth distribution or political change. This resulted in 1925's 'Peace Preservation Law', which massively curtailed political freedom.

As the left disintegrated, ultra-nationalism began to loom large. Japanese nationalism was born at the end of the nineteenth century. During the Meiji period, industrialisation, centralisation, mass education and military conscription produced a shift in popular allegiances. Feudal loyalties were replaced by loyalty to the state, personified by the Emperor.

Although early ultra-nationalists called for a tempering of Japan's 'westernisation', through limits on industrialisation, their focus changed after the First World War. Western politicians criticised Japan's imperial ambitions and limited Japanese military expansion (in 1922's Five Power Naval Limitation Agreement). The 1924 Japanese Exclusion Act prohibited Japanese immigration into the US. Ultra-nationalists saw these actions as provocative they moved towards xenophobic, emperor-centred and Asia-centric positions, portraying the 'ABCD Powers' (America-British-Chinese-Dutch) as threatening the Japanese Empire.

Between 1928 and 1932, Japan faced domestic crisis. Economic collapse associated with the Great Depression provoked spiralling prices, unemployment, falling exports and social unrest. In November 1930, the Prime Minister Hamaguchi Osachi was shot by an ultra-nationalist. In summer 1931, as control slipped away from the civilian government, the army acted independently to invade Manchuria. Troops quickly conquered the entire border region, establishing the puppet state of Manchukuo. Though the League of Nations condemned the action, it was powerless to intervene, and Japan promptly withdrew its membership. International isolation fed ultra-nationalism. Mayors, teachers and Shinto priests were recruited by ultra-nationalist movements to indoctrinate citizens.

In May 1932, an attempt by army officers to assassinate Hamaguchi's successor stopped short of becoming a full-blown coup, but ended rule by political parties. Between 1932 and 1936, admirals ruled Japan. Within government, the idea of the 'Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere' emerged. This plan called for Asian unification against western imperialism under Japanese leadership, leading to Asian self-sufficiency and prosperity. In reality, it meant an agenda of Japanese imperial domination in the Far East.

In July 1937, Japanese soldiers at the Marco Polo Bridge on the Manchuria border used explosions heard on the Chinese side as a pretext to invade China. The offensive developed into a full scale war, blessed by Hirohito. Japan enjoyed military superiority over China. The army advanced quickly and occupied Peking. By December, the Japanese had defeated Chinese forces at Shanghai and seized Nanking. There Japanese troops committed the greatest atrocity of an incredibly brutal war: the 'Rape of Nanking', in which an estimated 300,000 civilians were slaughtered.

By 1939, the war was in stalemate Chinese Communist and Nationalist forces continued to resist. Yet Japanese imperial ambitions were undimmed. In 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, creating the Rome-Tokyo-Berlin Axis, building on the alliance created in 1936 by the Anti-Comintern Pact. Japan now looked hungrily towards the oil-rich Dutch East Indies to fuel its Co-Prosperity Sphere. In 1941, when Imperial General Headquarters rejected Roosevelt's ultimatum regarding the removal of troops from China and French Indochina, the US President announced an oil embargo on Japan. For Japan, the move was the perfect pretext for war, unleashed in December 1941 with the Pearl Harbor attack.

Did you know?

Born April 29 1901, Michinomiya Hirohito was Japan's longest-reigning emperor. His reign lasted from 1926 until his death in 1989.


Emperor Jimmu, the first japanese emperor is said to have reigned 75 years. With him began the period of legendary emperors, the first of those filling the office of the Emperor of Japan. The emperors are known as ''legendary'' because of their irreally long supposed lifespans and the lack of historical evidence supporting their existence. Emperor Keikō is said to have ruled until the age of 143, having reigned for 59 years, thus making him the emperor with the longest lifespan. The period of legendary emperors lasted for 929 years.
No. Image Personal name Reign Posthumous name Notes
Legendary emperors (660 BC – 269 AD)
1 Kamu-yamato Iware-biko no Mikoto 660–585 BC
(75 years)
Emperor Jimmu
  Traditional dates claimed descent from the sun goddess, Amaterasu Β]
2 Kamu Nunagawamimi no Mikoto 581–549 BC
(31 years)
Emperor Suizei
  Traditional dates Γ] 3rd son of Jimmu Δ] presumed legendary
3 Shikitsuhiko Tamademi no Mikoto 549–511 BC
(38 years)
Emperor Annei
  Traditional dates Ε] son and heir of Suizei Δ] presumed legendary
4 Oho Yamatohiko Sukitomo no Mikoto 510–476 BC
(34 years)
Emperor Itoku
  Traditional dates Ε] 2nd son of Annei Δ] presumed legendary
5 Mimatsuhiko Kaeshine no Mikoto 475–393 BC
(82 years)
Emperor Kōshō
  Traditional dates Ζ] son and heir of Itoku Δ] presumed legendary
6 Oho Yamato Tarashihiko Kunioshi Hito no Mikoto 392–291 BC
(101 years)
Emperor Kōan
  Traditional dates Η] 2nd son of Kōshō Δ] presumed legendary
7 Oho Yamato Nekohiko Futoni no Mikoto 290–215 BC
(75 years)
Emperor Kōrei
  Traditional dates ⎖] son and heir of Kōan Δ] presumed legendary
8 Oho Yamato Nekohiko Kuni Kuru no Mikoto 214–158 BC
(56 years)
Emperor Kōgen
  Traditional dates ⎗] son and heir of Kōrei Δ] presumed legendary
9 Waka Yamato Nekohiko Oho Bibino no Mikoto 157–98 BC
(59 years)
Emperor Kaika
  Traditional dates ⎘] 2nd son of Kōgen Δ] presumed legendary
10 Mimaki Irihiko Inie no Mikoto 97–30 BC
(67 years)
Emperor Sujin
Traditional dates ⎙] first Emperor with a direct possibility of existence ⎚]
11 Ikume Irihiko Isachi no Mikoto 29 BC–AD 70 
(99 years)
Emperor Suinin
Traditional dates ⎛]
12 Oho Tarashihiko Oshirowake no Mikoto 71–130
(59 years)
Emperor Keikō
Traditional dates ⎜]
13 Waka Tarashihiko no Mikoto 131–191
(60 years)
Emperor Seimu
Traditional dates ⎝]
14 Tarashi Nakatsuhiko no Mikoto 192–200
(8 years)
Emperor Chūai
Traditional dates ⎞]
Okinaga Tarashihime no Mikoto 201–269
(68 years)
Empress Jingū
Traditional dates ⎟] served as regent for Emperor Ōjin not counted among the officially numbered Emperors
Kofun period (269–539)
15 Honda no Sumeramikoto / Ōtomowake no Mikoto / Homutawake no Mikoto 270–310
(40 years)
Emperor Ōjin
Traditional dates ⎠] deified as Hachiman
16 Ō Sazaki no Mikoto 313–399
(86 years)
Emperor Nintoku
Traditional dates ⎡]
17 Isaho Wake no Mikoto 400–405
(5 years)
Emperor Richū
Traditional dates ⎢]
18 Tajihi Mizuha Wake no Mikoto 406–410
(4 years)
Emperor Hanzei
Traditional dates ⎣]
19 Wo Asazuma Wakugo no Sukune no Mikoto 411–453
(42 years)
Emperor Ingyō
Traditional dates ⎤]
20 Anaho no Mikoto 453–456
(3 years)
Emperor Ankō
Traditional dates ⎥]
21 Oho Hatsuse Wakatakeru no Mikoto 456–479
(23 years)
Emperor Yūryaku
Traditional dates ⎦]
22 Shiraka Takehiro Kuni Oshi Waka Yamato Neko no Mikoto 480–484
(4 years)
Emperor Seinei
Traditional dates ⎧]
23 Ohoke no Mikoto 485–487
(2 years)
Emperor Kenzō
Traditional dates ⎨]
24 Ohoshi (Ohosu) no Mikoto/ Shimano Iratsuko 488–498
(10 years)
Emperor Ninken
Traditional dates ⎩]
25 Wohatsuse Wakasazaki 498–506
(8 years)
Emperor Buretsu
Traditional dates ⎪]
26 Ōto/Hikofuto (Hikofuto no Mikoto/Ōdo no Sumera Mikoto) 507-531

Japanese Cosmology

So, what did the universe look to Japanese people[ix] of the Kofun Period?

To the average peasant, it probably just looked like agricultural cycles peppered with bouts of luck or malady. For them, a spiritual realm existed and people visited sacred sites that were predecessors of what we now call 神社 jinja Shintō shrines to pray for harvests and health or to thank the gods such things.

However, to the elites of the Kofun Period, the universe’s spiritual realm was a bit more relevant. It described the trials and tribulations of their ancestors who lived in a fabled time, barely remembered by man. The peasants were fine just knowing bits and pieces of these fantastic stories of yore because they were more interested in praying for good harvests, healthy families, and keeping away ghosts, but the elite clans treasured these epic stories because they described the exploits of their divine ancestors. Also, if anyone questioned your family’s high position in society, you could cite your divine lineage and tell them to suck it.

These tales — some just-so-stories, others folklore, and yet others just veiled peaks into the politics of an era long-hidden since time immemorial, handed down by illiterate generation upon illiterate generation — described a universe populated by heavenly kami and earthly kami, humans and animals, ghosts and monsters. They attempted to explain the mysterious, the magical, the inexplicable, and everything and everyone’s place in the world.

Although these legends took place in a mysterious epoch long ago, the people of early Japan seemed to view their universe in a very peculiar way. It’s from those early texts, the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, that we know how they understood the history of the universe. It’s clear that by the 7 th century, the universe was generally understood to have consisted of two distinct ages: one is a mysterious and magical “land before time” and the other is the mundane world in which we all live and can only tell stories of ancient times.

Now, in the Age of the Gods, the cosmos was physically divided into three distinct realms, each populated by different castes of magical beings. Notice the hierarchy. The heavens are purely divine. The earth is mostly mundane. And beneath the realm of man, is a polluted and meaningless world of death and decay, only accessible by dark, damp caves or death itself.

Basic Cosmography

Between the High Plain of Heaven and the Central Land of Reed Plains was a bridge that connected these worlds. In paintings, it looks like a bridge made of little, fluffy clouds. In the texts, it seems like there was only a single pathway, but other myths and local legends are either inconsistent with its location or there were multiple bridges that came to exist over time. The Land of Yomi, on the other hand, was accessible via certain caves or tombs built on the Central Land of Reed Plains[xx].

Access Points

Here I’d like to mention a few things that I think are very interesting about this cosmology. First, the Central Land of Reed Plains is also home to humans, animals, and plants, yet this is the only system that I know of which has no mythological explanation for the creation or existence of these lifeforms. They simply just exist. The early Wajin (proto-Japanese) only seem concerned with the stories of various kami and take for granted the mundane existence of non-divine lifeforms[xxvi]. Second, Shintō is famously obsessed with ritual cleanliness and purity – we’ll see this in the myths we explore in upcoming articles. It has no problem with the heavenly kami coming and going between the Plain of High Heaven and the Central Land of Reed Plains. It even allows for kami and humans coming and going between the Central Land of Reed Plains and the Land of Yomi[xxvii]. That said, any being relegated to the underworld must be kept locked out of the earth and the heavens. To this purpose, there is a sacred boulder blocking the exit of Yomi – itself a kami – called 道反の大神 Chigaeshi no Ōkami the Great God of the Way Back. In order to preserve natural harmony in the Land of Wa[xxviii] (ie the Central Land of Reed Plains), no contaminated soul should be allowed to leave the Realm of Ghosts. Ancient texts suggest various locations for this so-called “gateway to hell,” but the most famous location is in former 出雲国 Izumo no Kuni Izumo Province which is modern-day 島根県 Shimane-ken Shimane Prefecture.

10 Things You Didn't Know About THE JAPANESE EMPEROR 天皇 - History

Hirohito in dress uniform
Source: Library of Congress

Where did Hirohito grow up?

Hirohito was born on April 29, 1901 in the royal palace in Tokyo, Japan. At the time he was born, his grandfather was the Emperor of Japan and his father was the crown prince. While a child he was called Prince Michi.

Not long after being born he went to live with another royal family who raised him. This was the common practice for princes of the royal family. When he was seven he attended a special school for Japanese nobles called the Gakushuin.

At the age of 11, Hirohito's grandfather died. This made his father the emperor and Hirohito the crown prince. In 1921, Hirohito took a trip to Europe. He was the first crown prince of Japan to travel to Europe. He visited many countries including France, Italy, and Great Britain.

Upon returning from Europe, Hirohito learned that his father was sick. Hirohito took over the leadership of Japan. He was called the Regent of Japan. He would rule as regent until his father died in 1926. Then Hirohito became the emperor.

Once he became emperor, he was no longer called Hirohito. He was referred to as "His Majesty" or "His Majesty the Emperor." His dynasty was called the "Showa" dynasty which means "peace and enlightenment." After his death, he was referred to as the Emperor Showa. He is still called this today in Japan.

Although Hirohito had complete authority in Japan, he had been taught since he was a young boy that the emperor stayed out of politics. He was to follow the advice of his advisors. During Hirohito's reign, many of his advisors were strong military leaders. They wanted Japan to expand and grow in power. Hirohito felt compelled to go along with their advice. He was afraid if he went against them, they would have him assassinated.

One of the first major events in Hirohito's rule was the invasion of China. Japan was a powerful, but small, island nation. The country needed land and natural resources. In 1937 they invaded China. They took over the northern region of Manchuria and captured the capital city of Nanking.

In 1940, Japan allied with Nazi Germany and Italy forming the Tripartite Pact. They were now a member of the Axis Powers in World War II. In order to allow Japan to continue to expand in the South Pacific, Japan bombed the United States Navy at Pearl Harbor. This allowed Japan to take over much of the South Pacific including the Philippines.

At first the war was a success for Hirohito. However, the war began to turn against Japan in 1942. By early 1945, Japanese forces had been pushed back to Japan. Hirohito and his advisors refused to surrender. In August of 1945 the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima and another on Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese were killed.

After seeing the devastation of the atomic bombs, Hirohito knew the only way to save his nation was to surrender. He announced the surrender to the Japanese people over the radio on August 15, 1945. It was the first time he had addressed the Japanese people and the first time the public had heard their leader's voice.

After the war, many Japanese leaders were tried for war crimes. Some were executed for their treatment and torture of prisoners and civilians. Although many leaders of the Allied nations wanted Hirohito punished, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur decided to let Hirohito remain as a figurehead. He would have no power, but his presence would help keep peace and allow Japan to recover as a nation.

Over the next several years, Hirohito remained Emperor of Japan. He became the longest reigning emperor in the history of Japan. He saw Japan recover from the war and become one of the richest countries in the world.

Watch the video: 15 Crazy Things You Didnt Know About Japanese Schools (May 2022).


  1. Nile

    He agrees, his thinking is brilliant

  2. Royall

    I don't like it.

  3. JoJolmaran

    I think you are wrong. I can defend my position. Email me at PM, we will discuss.

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