Succession to the Imperial Throne (皇位継承)

Succession to the Imperial Throne generally means to pass the Imperial Throne (the position of the Emperor) to the Crown Prince or the successor of the Imperial Throne. The meaning is almost the same as 'the succession to the Throne' to pass the position of Emperor, or 'the succession to the Emperor,' which are the words used in overseas countries.


Please refer to the Enthronement Ceremony for the details on the successive emperors after the Meiji period.

The Imperial succession to Emperor was regulated in the Constitution of the Empire of Japan and the Constitution of Japan. According to the Constitution of Japan, Imperial succession is hereditary and it comes under Imperial Family Law which was decided upon by the Diet, Imperial succession will be conducted according to the Law.
('as mentioned in Clause 2 of the Constitution of Japan')
Under Imperial Family Law, the 'Imperial Throne should be succeeded (succession) by male members of the Imperial family.
(According to Clause 1 of the Imperial Family Law)

The Constitution of the Empire of Japan

In terms of Imperial succession, it is mentioned in Clause 2 of The Constitution of the Empire of Japan, 'Under Imperial Family Law, male members, or their grandchildren, of the Imperial family would succeed the throne,' there was the order of Imperial succession in the first chapter of the former Imperial Family Law, and in the second chapter of the same Law, there was a description about accession to the throne. In the first chapter of the former Imperial Family Law, it says 'the Imperial Throne of the Empire of Japan should be succeeded by male Imperial Family members who are in the line of the successive Emperor.

In terms of the ceremony for Imperial succession, there were details in the Regulations Governing the Accession to the Throne (No.1 of Imperial Family Regulation in Meiji 42 (1909)) or 同附式 which was issued as one of the Imperial Family Regulations, what it is called '宮務法,' while the form of these regulations belong to Imperial Family Law based on the Imperial Family Law. After the Constitution of Japan was issued, the former Imperial Family Law and the Imperial Family Regulations were abolished on May 2, 1947.

The Constitution of Japan

In terms of Imperial Succession, it says in Clause 2 of the Constitution of Japan, 'the Imperial Throne is hereditary and the Throne will be succeeded under the Imperial Family Law decided by the Diet. There is a description in the first chapter of the Imperial Family Law of the order of Imperial succession and the accession to the throne, in the fourth chapter it discusses the enthronement ceremony.
In Clause 1 of Imperial Family Law, it says 'The Imperial Throne should be succeeded by a male member of the Imperial family.'

In terms of the ceremony for Imperial succession, there are no Lawful regulations, after the abolishment of the Regulations Governing the Accession to the Throne. (No.1 of Imperial Family Regulation in Meiji 42)
Also there are no detailed regulations about the content of the enthronement ceremony in Imperial Family Law, although the ceremony is compulsory under the Law. Therefore, the Succession ceremony and the enthronement ceremony of Crown Prince, Imperial Prince Akihito to succeed to the throne after Emperor Showa died, was arranged to follow the law of former Regulations Governing the Accession to the Throne and 同附式.

The following details of the ceremony for Imperial succession were taken from Crown Prince, Imperial Prince Akihito's enthronement ceremony (the present Emperor).

The Ceremony of succession of the Sacred Sword, Jewel and other treasures.

The above ceremony is equivalent to the ceremony called 'Kenji to gyo no gi' (the Ceremony of succession of the Sacred Sword, Jewel, and other treasures.), Volume 1 of the ceremony for accession to the throne of former Regulations Governing the Accession to the Throne (No.1 of Imperial Family Regulations in Meiji 42) and 附式, and it is the ceremony of the emperor's constitutional functions. The Sword means Ama no murakumo no tsurugi (one of the three sacred treasures), and Ji (the seal of state) means yasakani no magatama (a large ball, one of the three sacred treasures).

This is the ceremony to succeed the Sword and Ji, which are two of three sacred treasures passed from generations as a state of the Imperial succession, from the late Emperor (the former Emperor), the replica of the sword, Ama no murakumo no tsurugi, and the sacred jewel which is presumed to be real, yasakani no magatama from the Imperial Palace were used at the ceremony. At the same time, the succession of the seal of state and the Imperial Seal are celebrated as well.

When Emperor Showa died on January 7, 1989, the ceremony was held in the Main Hall of Matsu (Pine) of the Imperial Palace just after the Emperor died. The Japanese Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the head of three branches of government-legislature, administrative, and judicial branches, the Speakers of the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors, all the Cabinet ministers attended the ceremony as the representatives of the nation. The new Emperor went to the Main Hall of Matsu of the Imperial Palace accompanying other Imperial Family members, guided by the Grand Steward of the Imperial Household Agency, he then sat down in the front seat facing the audience who attended the ceremony, there was a short ceremony with the chamberlain placing a sword and Ju and the seal of state and the Imperial Seal on the desk in front of the new Emperor.

The ceremony of reporting to the Imperial Ancestor's Shrine

The purpose of the ceremony of reporting to the Three Shrines in the Imperial Court of the Imperial Ancestor's Shrine, is to report the enthronement of the new Emperor to the Imperial Ancestor's Shrine where successive Emperors were enthroned, or the Shrine where the gods of heaven and earth are enthroned. There was a ceremony organized by the Chief Ritualist to pass the Sword and Jewel to the Three Shrines in the Imperial Court.

The Ceremony in the Sanctuary of the Imperial Palace

This is a ceremony to pass the sacred treasures, Yata no kagami (the sacred mirror) which is enshrined as God at Kensho, Kashikodokoro (one of the palaces in the Three Shrines in the Imperial Court). The ceremony was held by the Chief Ritualist in the Three Shrines in the Imperial Court on January 9, 1989, two days after Emperor Showa died. A replica of Yata no kagami (the sacred mirror) was used, and was enshrined in the Imperial Palace.

After this ceremony is held, the successive Emperor who has passed the three sacred treasures as a proof of Imperial succession, officially became the new Emperor.
By the way there were some Emperors that existed who were not able to officially become Emperors since they did not go through the successive ceremony in the past. (For example, Emperors of Northern Court during the spilt of the political power of the period of the Northern and Southern Courts)

The Audience Ceremony with the Emperor after the enthronement

This is a ceremony about the emperor's constitutional functions, and the new emperor makes a speech to Japanese Prime Ministers and others. The ceremony was held on January 9, 1989 in the Main Hall of Matsu (Pine) of the Imperial Palace with 365 people participating.

The Ceremony in Daijo-gu Shrine

After one year court mourning for the late emperor, (the period of mourning is over), this ceremony of the Daijo-gu Shrine is held on the following year of the enthronement, also known as the first Harvest Festival. On the fourth day of November, this ceremony is held for four days, this is the last ceremony related to Imperial succession. On November 23, 1990, the Ceremony in Daijo-gu Shrine was held.

Since replicas were used for sacred treasure (Ama no murakumo no tsurugi and Yata no kagami (the sacred mirror)), the enthronement of the new emperor will be reported to Ise-jingu Shrine and Atsuta-jingu Shrine where the real sacred treasures are enthroned. Especially the report to Ise-jinju Shrine should be completed at an early stage, where Kososhin (the Goddess who is the Founder of the Imperial Family), Amaterasu Omikami (the Sun Goddess) is enshrined.

The period between the Yayoi period and the Asuka period

In Japan there was an issue regarding Imperial succession (the succession to the throne) from the ancient times. After the latter second century, during the late Yayoi period, there was large scale fighting in Japan due to the succession to the throne of Japan, the fighting ended after Himiko was decided to become the Queen of Japan. After Himiko died, although a new male king succeeded to the throne, fighting broke out again, after Toyo, a woman from the same family as Himiko, was decided to become Queen, the fighting ended.

In five centuries during the Kofun period, there were many disputes due to Imperial succession according to the record of Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan). In early sixth century, after Emperor Buretsu died, the Imperial line of Japan discontinued, however Emperor Keitai who was believed to be the fifth descendant of Emperor Ojin succeeded to the throne. There were theories approving and disapproving whether the Emperor Keitai was in fact the descendant of Emperor Ojin or not, but this experience was accepted as an example of allowing descendants, up to five generations, succeed to the throne, it was strongly reflected in the discontinuity of Imperial succession later on.

During the Kofun and Asuka periods, (middle of sixth century to later seventh century) disputes often took place due to the issue of the Imperial succession. There was a regulation in terms of Imperial succession in those days such as the succession between brothers, the succession of eldest brothers, being nominated by aides, following the will of a former Emperor, etc, (there was a theory developed from a recent study that there was an age limit, up to thirty years old, for succeeding to the throne), it is presumed after fulfilling such complicated requirements, Imperial succession was decided. Emperor Keitai, Emperor Ankan, and Emperor Senka, succeeded to the throne for a few years followed by Emperor Kinmei, however there is a theory that it was because of usurpation of Imperial succession by Emperor Kinmei. After that the descendant of the Emperor Kinmei succeeded to the throne, however how it happened is a complicated story, because there were many disputes due to the Imperial succession.
There was some occasion that the female Emperor was chosen when there was an issue to decide who to succeed to the throne, there were Emperor Suiko and Emperor Kogyoku who succeeded to the throne until there was appropriate male successor was found. (There were many theories of the reason why the female Emperors were chosen, some people are against the theory of not accepting the temporally Imperial succession until there was someone appropriate to become Emperor before the government of Ritsuryo codes system.)

The biggest dispute, in terms of the Imperial succession in ancient times, was the Jinshin War in 672. Emperor Tenji passed the Imperial throne to his direct line, Prince Otomo (Emperor Kobun), however, Prince Oama, who was against it, caused a large dispute, and killed Emperor Kobun, and became Emperor Tenmu. Emperor Tenmu discontinued the Imperial succession between brothers to stop disputes due to the Imperial succession after his era, it was said he tried to set up a rule for the male in his direct line to succeed the throne, he allowed Prince Kusakabe become Crown Prince. However Emperor Tenmu died suddenly before the establishing a political base, Emperor Tenmu's Empress tried to avoid the sudden solution in terms of Imperial succession, as she was concerned that Prince Kusakabe would have the same experience as Prince Otomo. However after Prince Kusakabe, too, died suddenly, the Empress temporarily succeeded to the throne to prevent any dispute due to Imperial succession (Emperor Jito), she let Prince Kusakabe's child, Prince Karu (later called Emperor Monmu) become Crown Prince.

Between the Nara and the mid-Heian period

After the beginning of the Nara period, since Emperor Monmu died before his successor, Prince Obito (later called Emperor Shomu) came of age, two Empresses, Empress Genmei and Empress Gensho, succeeded to the throne. Emperor Shomu did not have a male successor to succeed to the throne, thus female Emperor, Empress Koken succeeded to the throne. After that, Emperor Tenmu's grandchild, Emperor Junnin succeeded to the throne upon the strong recommendation of FUJIWARA no Nakamaro, however he was involved in the FUJIWARA no Nakamaro dispute, Emperor Junnin was removed from his position, Empress Koken was enthroned again to become Empress Shotoku. During this time, other Imperial members attempted to succeed to the throne, however it was considered as a coup each time, as there was no appropriate successor to succeed to the throne. Due to this, Emperor Shotoku, who deeply believed in Buddhism, attempted to allow the monk, Dokyo to succeeded to the throne, (there was another theory) but he failed, Emperor Shotoku died before deciding the successor, and the Imperial line of Emperor Tenmu was decided to discontinue.
As a principle rule of the Imperial succession during the period between Emperor Tenmu and Emperor Shotoku was to succeed the throne from the direct Imperial line. (There was an example of having an Empress in case of the appropriate successor was too young to succeed to the throne.)
Although this rule prevented severe disputes due to Imperial succession and stopped Emperor Tenji's Imperial line from returning, it in fact limited the successors of Imperial succession and caused the discontinuity of the Imperial family line. (As a result of this, Emperor Tenji's Imperial line was restored.)

After Emperor Shotoku died, there was an incident of the discontinuity in the Imperial line, the Ministers had a meeting and it was decided for elderly Emperor Konin, who was the grandchild of Emperor Tenji, to succeed to the throne. This became an example of Imperial succession decided in a conference. It seemed like the example of Emperor Keitai was strongly considered in two issues at this time.
One issue was it should be someone from the Imperial family line, another issue was it should be someone who has a maternal relationship to the former Emperor. (Emperor Konin was the husband of Emperor Shotoku's half younger sister)
After learning about the experience of the discontinuity in Emperor Tenmu's Imperial line, Emperor Konin appointed his son, Emperor Kanmu as his successor, Kanmu's younger brother, Imperial Prince Sawara was chosen as the second successor of the Crown Prince. Due to this, direct Imperial succession since Emperor Tenji and Emperor Tenmu, was not allowed, in fact Imperial succession between the eldest brothers was restored (even though it was only temporary). However Imperial Prince Sawara was under suspicion of treason (the plot to assassinate FUJIWARA no Tanetsugu) and he was not allowed to succeed to the throne, he was furious about this and he ended up fasting until he died of starvation. After Imperial Prince Sawara died heroically, Emperor Kanmu was scared and suffered from the Prince's curse for a long time, since Emperor Kanmu's era started as the Heian court, the respective title of Emperor Sudo was given to Imperial Prince Sawara. Emperor Kanmu had many Princes and Princesses. After Emperor Kanmu's era, his eldest son, Emperor Heizei succeeded to the throne, his younger brother, Imperial Prince Kamino (later called Emperor Gosaga) became the second successor to the Crown Prince by following the Emperor's will after the Emperor Heizei, who was born weak. Emperor Heizei opposed this and tried to have his eldest brother in his direct Imperial line, succeed to the throne, after that he passed the throne to Emperor Saga and allowed his own son, Imperial Prince Takaoka to become Crown Prince. Because of this arrangement, there was an armed dispute between Emperor Heizei and Emperor Saga, and Emperor Saga won (The Kusuko Incident). Due to this the direct Imperial line, Emperor Heizei lost the possibility to succeed to the throne, Emperor Saga was afraid of being criticized from both inside and outside the palace, he hesitated to appoint his own child to succeed to the throne, he appointed his younger brother, Imperial Prince Otomo (later called Emperor Junna) to become the second successor of the Crown Prince. To prevent the dispute against Emperor Saga of Imperial succession, there was an agreement to share Imperial succession from both direct Imperial lines, in fact, the succession was conducted such as Emperor Saga - Emperor Junna - Emperor Ninmyo (Emperor Junna's child), after Emperor Ninmyo, Imperial Prince Tsunesada (Emperor Junna's child, his mother was Emperor Saga's Princess) was appointed as Crown Prince. After this arrangement however, Emperor Junna was concerned it would cause another dispute, he advised Emperor Saga to appoint Emperor Ninmyo's Prince as a successor after the Emperor Ninmyo, however this advice was rejected. Just after both Retired Emperors Junna and Sage died one after another, Imperial Prince Tsunesada's position as Crown Prince was taken, (the Showa Disturbance) and Imperial succession was unified by Emperor Saga - along Emperor Ninmyo's Imperial line. There was another theory that Emperor Ninmyo caused the disturbance to unify the Imperial line of Imperial succession with the support of the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan. Therefore, after Emperor Tenji's Imperial line learned its lesson from Emperor Tenmu's Imperial line and since the era of Emperor Konin, the Imperial throne was succeeded between brothers (the practical return of the succession between the eldest brothers), and it was responsible for a continuous dispute for Imperial succession, starting from the incident to assassinate FUJIWARA no Tanetsugu and ended with the Showa Disturbance.

After the era of Emperor Ninmyo, Imperial succession of the direct Imperial line continued almost smoothly for example; Emperor Montoku - Emperor Seiwa - Emperor Yozei, later Emperor Yozei caused a serious incident in the Palace, (there was a theory about him accidentally killing someone) after he was forced to abdicated from the throne, and again there was a crisis of the discontinuity of Imperial succession of the direct Imperial line. At this time there wasn't an appropriate successor and Imperia Prince Tsunesada, who had previously lost his position as Crown Prince, and Emperor Saga's child, MINAMOTO no Toru, were both appointed as successors, finally it was decided in favor of Emperor Ninmyo's child, Emperor Koko who was rather old to become a successor, became Emperor after following the example of when Emperor Shoko died. However, Emperor Koko succeeded to the throne temporarily and he allowed all his children to be demoted to commoners; as he did not decide upon a successor before his death, Emperor Koko's child MINAMOTO no Sadami was hurriedly made Crown Prince as an emergency measure just prior to the emperor's death and he subsequently succeeded to the throne as Emperor Uda. It was an unusual example of Japanese Imperial succession for an Imperial member who had been demoted from nobility to subject, to come back and succeed the throne, it was forced to decision because the Emperor had the absolute right to chose the rank of the Emperor's children. But, Emperor Uda and his child, Emperor Daigo established the form of the Emperor's directly ruled government by actively becoming involved in politics.

Since the era of Emperor Montoku, the Northern House of the Fujiwara clan became Regent and Chancellor as the Emperor's maternal relatives and the regency government was partly established, during the era of Emperor Daigo's child, brothers of the Emperor Suzaku and Emperor Murakami, this government was fully established. Within the regency family, there were some candidates for Regent and Chancellor that came forward, each candidate sent their daughter to the Imperial Palace to become the Emperor's consort and those daughters had children, there were power struggles, between the regency families, to control Imperial secession. Due to the above, there were many candidates for Imperial succession, again, the separation of the Imperial line - sharing the Imperial throne - became apparent. After FUJIWARA no Michinaga combined the line of regency family into one, the Imperial line was also unified into one. Thereafter, although there was a tendency to share the Imperial throne, there was intention inside the Imperial Palace to unify the Imperial line for succession.

Between the period of the cloistered government and the mid Kamakura period

In the movement for unity of the Imperial line, Emperor Gosanjo succeeded to the throne. Emperor Gosanjo had planned to pass the throne to a male successor of his direct line before he retired, and he tried to rule politics as an retired Emperor in order to establish a strong basis for unifying the Imperial line. Emperor Gosanjo died before his plan could be realized, his male successor, directly in line, Emperor Shirakawa abided by Emperor Gosanjo's will and he became the retired Emperor and started the Cloistered government to rule politics as the actual Emperor (Chiten no Kimi). As the retired Emperor acted as Emperor, the Emperor himself filled the current position of Crown Prince, there often was no one to become Crown Prince. In any case, one of the important purposes for ruling the Cloister government was to secure the Imperial line for succession. In the late Heian period, the dispute about Imperial succession to the Retired Emperor Toba happened, Emperor Sutoku, Emperor Konoe, and Emperor Goshirakawa, between brothers, opposed to each other, but, it was settled by armed conflict after the Hogen War, the Heiji War. Emperor Goshirakawa finally won the War, however, since he used Samurai to win, this allowed Samurai to become involved in politics later on.

After the era of Emperor Goshirakawa, the successors to the Imperial throne were from many different Imperial lines, but Emperor Goshirakawa continued to rule the government as In (Chiten no Kimi, the retired emperor), due to this the Imperial line was, in a way, secured. Emperor Goshirakawa tried to maintain the power of the Imperial Palace against the sudden rise of the Samurai forces such as Ise-Heishi (Taira clan) and Kawachi-Genji (Minamoto can), however he had to pass part of the Imperial Palace authority to the Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). Since Emperor Goshirakawa's proper successor was Emperor Gotoba, the Imperial line was unified along Emperor Gotoba's line, after Emperor Goshirakawa died, Emperor Gotoba started his Cloistered government. Emperor Gotoba caused the Jokyu Disturbance in order to take back the right to govern the eastern states from the Kamakura bakufu, however, the result was that the Imperial Palace lost the battle against the Kamakura bakufu. Consequently, the Imperial line of Emperor Gotoba's Cloistered government and Emperor Gotoba were abolished, and this caused a problem because there was no one to succeed to the Imperial throne. At that time, a custom prevailed that the successor of the Imperial throne should have a father who was a retired Emperor, therefore Imperial Prince Morisada who previously had no position in the Imperial Palace, succeeded to the position to start to rule the Cloistered government as Gotakakurain against his will, and his son became Emperor Gohorikawa. Unfortunately, the Imperial line of Emperor Gohorikawa discontinued after the second Emperor, Emperor Shijo died young, the Imperial throne again went back to Emperor Gotoba's Imperial lineage. It was Emperor Gosaga who succeeded the throne at this time. Emperor Gosaga's father, Emperor Tsuchimikado, was treated coldly by his own father, Emperor Gotoba, took a neutral position at the Jokyu Disturbance, it made a good impression on the Kamakura bakufu and practically all the bakufu approved Emperor Gosaga's Imperial succession to the throne. This example was followed until the period of Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), the bakufu needed to approve the Imperial succession to the throne.

The period of the division of Imperial lineage

Emperor Gosaga's children, the brothers of Emperor Gofukakusa, Emperor Kameyama, both fought against each for the position of Chiten no kimi as his father's successor, they came to an agreement to conduct Ryoto Tetsuritsu (sharing the Imperial throne from both Imperial lines) that the direct descendants of the each Imperial line would take turns to sharing the Imperial throne. The older brother, Emperor Gofukakusa's line was called the Jimyoin Imperial line, and the younger brother, Emperor Kameyama's line was called the Daikakuji Imperial line, this example of sharing the throne was the biggest event in Japanese history that had a great impact on the later period.

The Ryoto Tetsuritsu was conducted smoothly for a while, however the Imperial lines started to divide within the each Imperial line at the end of the Kamakura period, the situation was getting confused in terms of sharing the throne. Under such circumstances, Emperor Godaigo of the Daikakuji Imperial line attempted to overthrow the Bakufu twice to revive royal authority for the Imperial Palace (the Shochu Disturbance, the Genko Disturbance), his position was taken away from the bakufu and he was banished, but it caused the ruin of the Kamakura bakufu, Emperor Godaigo became Emperor again in Kyoto and started the Kenmu Restoration. Emperor Godaigo did not become a retired Emperor, it was the first time in the last two hundred years (for the last Emperor not to become a retired Emperor and to start a Cloistered government) that the Emperor governed his directly ruled government. The Emperor had the intention to solve the current problem of conducting Ryoto Tetsuritsu and re-unifying the Imperial line to his lineage, however there were many disputes against the Emperor's new government, the Ashikaga shogunate who was in opposition to the Emperor appointed Emperor Komyo from the Jimyoin Imperial line. Because of this, it caused two Imperial lines to emerge during the same period, the Northern Court (the Jimyoin Imperial line) and the Southern Court (Daikakuji Imperial line), which was unprecedented in the Japanese history. The Northern Court had the support from the Ashikaga shogunate and continued ruling the Cloister government the same as before, on the other hand, in the Southern Court, after the era of Emperor Gomurakami, although the position of Chancellor had returned to the Palace, the Emperor continued to directly rule the government.
In 1352, when there were internal problems within the Muromachi bakufu, the Southern Court army took the opportunity to occupy Kyoto, and abduct the main Imperial members of the Northern Court, such as Emperor Suko. (Shohei Itto)
The Muromachi bakufu received information that the Emperor's younger brother was left at a Temple, and they allowed him to hastily succeed to the throne as Emperor Gokogon. Although the Southern Court forces later released Emperor Suko and others, the Muromachi bakufu did not approve Emperor Suko's return as Emperor, the bakufu tried to appeased his descendants by giving the respective title of Fushiminomiya. However, after it was decided that the direct descendants of Emperor Gokogon would succeed to the throne, antagonism was raised against Emperor Gokogon and the Muromachi bakufu by Emperor Suko and the Fushiminomiya family, and this practically caused a division within the Northern Court.

As time went by, when it became apparent the Northern Court and the Muromachi bakufu were in the superior position, the Southern Court started looking for an agreement. It was Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA who worked as the intermediator. In 1392 after the suggestion to restart the sharing of the Imperial throne between the Jimyoin Imperial lineage (the Northern Court) and the Daikakuji Imperial lineage (the Southern Court), Emperor Gokameyama of the Southern Court accepted, and the unity of the Northern Court and the Southern Court was realized, together with Emperor Gokomatsu of the Northern Court. However after Emperor Shoko succeeded to the throne in 1412, the agreement to restart sharing the Imperial throne was cancelled, there was a declaration for Emperor Gokomatsu's direct descendants to succeed to the throne.
The Southern Court was furious after the agreement for sharing the Imperial throne was cancelled, they continued to stay as Gonancho (the Southern Court in later years) in later years. (There were some people who named themselves as the descendants of the Southern Court after the Pacific War.)

It seemed that Imperial succession was sacred at a glance with the unity of the Northern Court and the Southern Court, however, the internal trouble within the Northern Court did not become resolved. Furthermore, Emperor Gokomatsu only had one male child, Emperor Shoko, (Emperor Shoko's Crown Prince, Emperor Gokomatsu's second Prince died young, and in fact, Sojun IKKYU the famous monk was Emperor Gokomatsu's Prince, he had to enter into the priesthood at a young age for political reasons, he did not have any right to succeed to the throne.) Emperor Shoko did not have any children and he was born weak, and he was not expected to live long. Thus Emperor Gokomatsu, who was ruling the Cloistered government at the time, secretly ordered Fushiminomiya Imperial Prince Sadafusa, who was the grandchild of Emperor Suko, to succeed to the throne in the event of an emergency. After Emperor Suko learned of the above arrangement, he was furious and had Imperial Prince Sadafusa forcefully enter into the priesthood, the Prince had his right to succeed to the throne taken away. Not too long after that, Emperor Shoko died in 1428, and Emperor Gokomatsu's Imperial line discontinued. Then Emperor Gokomatsu allowed Emperor Gohanazono, who was the Imperial Prince Sadafusa's Prince, to succeed to the throne. The Southern Court was against it, and said they would not accept the Imperial succession of the Northern Court as their Imperial lineage had already discontinued, they raised revolts in many places. There was a crisis that had occurred whereby some Samurai forces from the Southern Court went into the Imperial Palace and took the three sacred treasures (,Kinketsu Disturbance) later the Muromachi bakufu suppressed the story, and this was a sign that real 'unity of the Southern and the Northern Court' had come about.

Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA

In early 1990s, it was suspected that Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA planned to take the power back to succeed to the throne. He was a high ranking Samurai, and also a court noble, he gradually prepared to pretend to start the Cloistered government, and he planned to have his son, Yoshitsugu ASHIKAGA succeed to the throne, however this Imperial succession did not happen as he died just before his plan was about to come to fruition. Yoshimitsu also was from the Minamoto clan who's founder was Emperor Seiwa (or Emperor Yozei), however he was almost ten generations removed from the former Emperor who was in the same Imperial lineage, so he was not considered to have the right to succeed to the throne. There was no example, in Japanese history, of an Imperial descendant who had not succeeded to the throne for more that five generations. However the present writer of the above seemed to think that Yoshimitsu had a great possibility to regain his rights of succeeding the throne after looking into the details of the situation, (such as the crisis of discontinuity of Emperor Gokogon's Imperial lineage) if Yoshimitsu had a chance to succeed to the throne, the existence of the (Emperor) Imperial throne should have been changed dramatically.
In fact, after Yoshimitsu died, the Imperial Palace intended to bestow the title of retired emperor. (However Yoshimitsu's successor, Yoshimochi ASHIKAGA declined it.)

From the Sengoku period (Period of Warring States) to present

In the middle of the Muromachi period, the authority of the Imperial Palace was gradually lost, however, there was no dispute concerning Imperial succession, the male Imperial member of the direct Imperial line succeeded smoothly to the throne. In other words, the situation was such that anyone could succeed to the throne. During the period of Emperor Gohanazono who came from the Fushiminomiya family to Emperor Goyozei of early seventeenth century (early Edo period), Imperial succession was conducted smoothly by the male Imperial members of the direct lineage, without any disputes or sharing of the throne, this was the longest period in Japanese history when Imperial succession was conducted smoothly without problems.

Emperor Goyozei, during the late Azuchi-Momoyama period and early Edo period, was frustrated as his successor was decided by two powerful leaders, Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, he allowed his own child to abdicate from the throne and tried to have his younger brother, Hachijonomiya Imperial Prince Toshihito succeed to the throne, however, there was a conflict with the Toyotomi government and Edo bakufu, finally he decided to pass the throne to Emperor Gomizunoo, who was the eldest son and was recommended by Ieyasu, but an unpleasant relationship between the father and son continued. The next successor to the throne, Emperor Gomizunoo was also often highly pressured by the Edo bakufu and he could not take the pressure and passed the throne to his daughter in 1629. The Empress Meisho who succeeded to the throne on this occasion, was the first female Emperor after Empress Shotoku, first time in 859 years. After that, Empress Meisho passed the throne to her half younger brother, Emperor Gokomyo. There were some examples of female Emperors that temporarily succeeded to the throne in the Edo period. After the era of Emperor Gokomyo, although the basic rule for Imperial succession was for a male Imperial member to succeed to the throne, there were some female Empresses that temporarily succeeded, in case the other candidates were too young to become Emperor. Thereafter, since Emperor Gomomozono died young in 1779, without having children, there was a crisis of the discontinuity of the Imperial succession, which can be seen several times in the Japanese history. However Hakuseki ARAI foresaw the possibility of the discontinuity of the Imperial throne sixty years prior, he had already established the Kaninnomiya family, who were in the Imperial family line and had the right to succeed to the throne, Emperor Kokaku was accepted from the Kaninnomiya family as Emperor Gomomozono's successor.

Although there was a custom for the descants of the Imperial Family to make demotion from nobility to subject from the government based on the ritsuryo legal codes, after the Medieval Period, the Imperial Family line (the hereditary Imperial Family) was established, such as Fushiminomiya and Kaninnomiya for the Imperial succession, in order for them to succeed to the throne after many generations. In those days, the Emperor with many Princes and Princesses had to allow them to enter into the priesthood while they were young, except for the candidate Prince who will succeed to the throne, this was because the Emperor could not afford to financially support the Princes and Princesses, or the court officials could not afford to have them be demoted from nobility to subject, (It is needless to say that the Princes who went into the priesthood would not have any children. This was the reason why there were many crisis of discontinuity of Imperial succession after the Medieval Period, even though the system of the Inner Palace in premodern time was well established.) there were even examples of an Emperor allowing his child to be adopted into the hereditary Imperial Family to secure the succession of descendants, if there was a crisis of the discontinuity of the family.

After the era of Emperor Kokaku, the Imperial throne was succeeded by a male Imperial member of the direct line which has continued to the present. During Emperor Meiji's era, a former Imperial Family Law was issued which included the prohibition of abdication, prohibition of adoption, and a priority for a male, direct Imperial member's, succession to the throne. In the Showa period, the Imperial Family Law was re-issued under the Constitution of Japan, the basic rule of the prohibition of the abdication, prohibition of the adoption, and priority of the male direct Imperial member's succession to the throne, remained the same, there was another regulation added that illegitimate children would not be included to the Imperial family.


Although it is stated in Imperial Family Law, 'a male member who belongs to Imperial family;' an issue appeared that there are no male Imperial successors in the direct line of the present Imperial family, there is only a female successor, after Imperial Princess Aiko was born. After Imperial Hisahito was born in 2006, there was a sense of relief to have an Imperial successor, however the situation is still the same that there are not enough successors to succeed to the throne. Therefore, there was a debate in terms of the succession to the throne including the possibility of an Empress or female Imperial Family line to succeed to the throne.

In general view of Japanese Imperial succession, there have been some Empresses, however, they all succeeded to the throne temporarily. The Imperial line was continued by the male Imperial members, there was no example of succession to the throne being passed on by an Empress. Therefore, even though Imperial line of direct male Imperial members was discontinued, between the era of Emperor Keitai in old days through to Emperor Konin, Emperor Koko, Emperor Gosaga, Emperor Gohanazono, Emperor Kokaku, the Imperial line was passed by the male Imperial members although it was a collateral line. The retired Emperor (Chiten no kimi) - the form of the succession to the Emperor was in secure form and it was passed on by the male members of the Imperial family, however the position of the retired Emperor itself was abolished. In this way, Imperial succession by a male Imperial member was passed from generation to generation, since there were no male successors born in the Imperial family for a while, there is a debate on whether or not to accept the Imperial succession by female Imperial members. Japanese Imperial succession, it is at the crossroads to end the old tradition and establish new Imperial lineage, whether to keep the traditional Imperial succession by the male Imperial line since the beginning of the Imperial family, or to accept succession from the female Imperial lineage.

[Original Japanese]