The Japanese royal family is the oldest hereditary dynasty globally, having one single lineage reign over the country's people for roughly 2,600 years. Following World War II, the Emperor of Japan became a figurehead instead of a leader with political power. After thousands of years of sitting on the chrysanthemum throne, this imperial family faces major changes in the decades to come.
Succession in the Japanese Royal Family
The Japanese royal family is facing a conundrum that is new to them, and after being in power for nearly three thousand years, you would think that they would have seen it all by now! When Emperor Akihito abdicated his throne in order for his son to begin his reign, the lineage of the royal family suddenly got far smaller than many were comfortable with. Of the seven royal family members under the age of 40, six of them are women.
In some countries, this would be no issue because laws have been altered so that women can sit upon the throne in their own right. The next royal ruler of Spain will be a female, as she is the firstborn daughter of King Philipe VI, and she is not unique. Other royal families have adopted new rules in succession to keep the royal lineage intact and move into modern times. In Japan, however, a female head would mean the start of a new family line, or miyake. With such a distinct and long line, one can see why some would want to avoid this new path.
Furthermore, the current law states that royal females lose their titles when they marry. This has severe implications for the imperial family as six of the seven younger members will marry and hence lose their status in the family, leaving only one male to continue the true line and royal name. The population is split in which direction to head in, although more people are leaning towards altering the law so women can rule as head of the family under their own name and titles. Here are the members of the Imperial House of Japan who face a new and uncertain royal future.
Emperor Akihito Emeritus and Empress Michiko Emerita
The former Emperor and Empress are unique to the royal lineage in several ways, but perhaps most interestingly, theirs was a true love match. Akihito first met his future bride on the tennis courts in 1957. He lost the match, but in time, won the woman. Up until this point, no one had married outside of the Japanese royal lineage for 1500 years. Before this union, Emperors had a chief wife and concubines all born to noble families. The couple welcomed three children into the family, with their oldest son now acting as reigning Emperor. Akihito abdicated his throne due to mounting health concerns, making him the first Emperor to do so in over 200 years. The former Emperor has a net worth of around $40 million.
Empress Michiko Emerita made history when she wed into the imperial clan. Michiko excelled in her studies, graduating at the top of her class. She studied English at Seishin Women's University and displayed a talent in poetry and piano in later years. Michiko bore three children and raised them herself, also breaking with tradition. Prior to her change in royal child-rearing policy, the children born to Emperors and Empresses were the responsibility of nannies, wet nurses, and royal staff.
While revered by many for her progressive mannerisms, many conservatives despised the former Empresses' methods. Michiko faced countless scorns during her husband's reign, and in 1993, she collapsed and lost her ability to speak. The palace blamed the stress that had been long placed upon Michiko's shoulders, while others pointed to medical maladies like stroke or nervous breakdown.
Emperor Naruhito is the oldest son of the former Emperor and Empress. Like his father, he married a commoner, now Empress Masako. Before becoming the Emperor, he studied at Gakushuin University and then later at Oxford, which is where he met his future mate, Masako.
The current Empress met her future royal husband while studying at Oxford University. Born into an aristocratic family, Masako denied two proposals from the future Emperor because she feared ruining her diplomatic career. The third time was a charm for her paramour and she agreed to marry into the royal family.
Masako has seen her fair share of loss and distress. She suffered great pressure to bear a royal son. The Empress suffered a miscarriage in 1999, and the coverage of the personal loss was extensive and intrusive. The entire situation plunged the Empress into a state of depression. She withdrew from public appearances and later gave birth to Princess Aiko in 2001. Still, the pressures to give the dynasty a son continued, as females can not rule the lineage as men can. Those pressures were finally eased for the Empress when Naruhito's younger brother and his wife birthed a son.
Her Imperial Highness Princess Aiko
Princess Aiko is the only child of the Emperor and Empress. Like her parents, she has placed a heavy emphasis on her education and had plans of doing her studies overseas, pre-pandemic. Like most young adults her age, the Princess has shifted to a virtual learning environment. While Aiko won't rule as Empress-her uncle and cousin will handle those duties-she will continue to represent her royal family and participate in certain circles and events.
Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Akishino
Crown Prince Akishino is the younger brother to the Emperor. He and his wife have three children, two daughters, and one son. Their son became an essential piece to the current succession puzzle. The Japanese law allows for males only to take the throne, and up until this royal couple welcomed a child, the possibilities of who would be next in line seemed endlessly female. Crown Prince Akishino is next in line for the throne, and his son follows him in this lineage.
Akishino Royal Children
Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Akishino have three children, two daughters, and a son. Their daughters won't be sitting on a throne anytime soon unless laws drastically change, but their son might rule someday.
Her Imperial Highness Princess Mako
Princess Mako has made headlines in recent years after announcing her relationship with boyfriend and fellow student, Kei Komuro. The pair was to marry years ago, but the groom-to-be's mother was in a financial hullabaloo, causing a pause on the nuptials. Mako's father has given his blessing for the couple to wed, but kinks continue to be worked out and no wedding date has been set.
Her Imperial Highness Princess Kako
Princess Kako is the second child of Imperial Highness Crown Prince Akishino and Imperial Highness Crown Princess Akishino. She graduated from International Christian University in Tokyo and is fully involved in representing her royal family and performing various duties. Her father is next in line for the throne and her brother stands behind him in the line of royal male succession.
His Imperial Highness Prince Hisahito
If ever there a long-awaited birth to be celebrated, it would be the birth of this guy. After numerous females having been born into the Japanese royal family, His Imperial Highness Prince Hisahito's birth meant that a male would indeed continue to sit upon the throne. The current Emperor and Empress do not have male children, and because of the law, the Emperor's brother will succeed the present ruler at some point. Crown Prince Akishino had two daughters with his wife, as his brother the Emperor had one, causing much concern and strain that the lineage would fizzle out. The birth of Crown Prince Akishino's firstborn son, Hisahito, changed that, giving the nation their precious son.
Former Princess Sayako Kuroda
Sayako is the third child of Crown Prince Akihito and then Crown Princess Michiko. As a female, she never had a chance at sitting atop the royal throne. Instead, the former princess has followed a different path in life. Like her brothers, she attended Gakushūin University, earning a Bachelor of Letters degree in the Japanese Language and Literature. Later, she studied ornithology, specializing in the Kingfisher. She married Yoshiki Kuroda and because of Japanese law, no longer retains royal titles. She occasionally makes family appearances, but she lives her life far differently from her royal brothers and their families.
A Lineage in Continued Dire Straits
While Prince Hisahito is still young, this royal family member assures that there is a male to assume royal duties following his uncle and father. Once he marries and has children, an incredible amount of pressure will be placed upon him and his mate to continue to lineage and produce another male heir. Until the laws change, allowing females to take the throne in their own rights while still retaining titles, the race to bear royal males continues for the Japanese royal family.