Who’s Who In Japan’s Shrinking Monarchy?
After a princess renounced her royal title to marry a commoner and the emperor abdicated, it's safe to assume that the Japanese monarchy is continuously shrinking. The family is running short on male heirs, too, with the youngest and second-in-line at age 12.
The Japanese monarchy is the oldest one in the world, with its origins dating back to 660 B.C. Members of the imperial family were initially regarded as divine, believed to be descendants of the sun goddess Amaterasu. That was until then-Emperor Hirohito denounced this when he declared Japan’s surrender in the war.
From Japan’s war emperor down to its youngest heir, get to know the members of Japan’s royal family.
Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989)
Hirohito, also known as Emperor Showa, was the emperor of Japan during World War II. He was famously known for his “Jewel Voice Broadcast”, where he officially declared the end of the war via radio broadcast. This move surprised the nation because in Japanese tradition, it is uncommon for the emperor to address the public in such a manner. In his address, Hirohito chose to deliver his announcement without using the word “surrender.”
Other than his role in the war, Hirohito is also known as the first crown prince to have visited Europe.
Empress Nagako (1903-2000)
Nagako, the eldest daughter of a prince, was chosen as consort to then-crown prince Hirohito. Their marriage was believed to have been a union bound by duty and responsibility, rather than love.
As the people awaited the birth of a son, Nagako gave birth to four daughters. Had she ended up giving birth to a fifth daughter, Hirohito might have taken in another consort in order to produce a male heir. In 1933, Nagako finally bore a son, Akihito, who then succeeded his father.
Akihito took over the Chrysanthemum Throne in 1989. His era is called ‘heisei’ which means ‘achieving peace.’ Contrary to his father’s controversial role in the war, Akihito was clearly a proponent of peace and carried out his role as a “symbol of the state and unity of the people” well. In the post-war era, he actively chose to reach out to Japan’s former enemies.
While his reign was an optimistic time, however, it was often ruptured by severe natural calamities. In 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake shook Japan, followed by a giant tsunami. In his people’s despair, Akihito decided to appear on public television to deliver his message of hope and reassurance. He and his wife also went off to personally visit the disaster-stricken families, which surprised and touched many.
After 30 years of duty, Akihito soon requested to abdicate his throne, due to his declining health. He had to undergo surgery for prostate cancer in 2003 and had a heart bypass in 2012. On the last day of April this year, he retired from his role. His prayer for his people was peace and happiness.
He is Japan’s 125th emperor.
The daughter of a businessman who led Nissin Flour Milling Co., Michiko is the first-ever commoner to wed an heir to the throne. She and Akihito met at a tennis match, also dubbed a “love match,” where they played doubles on opposing teams. Theirs is a romance story favored by the public and the media.
While their marriage was approved by then-Emperor Hirohito, his wife Nagako was decidedly against it, primarily due to Michiko’s commoner status. As an empress, Michiko turned out to be one to break many traditions. She was the first to breastfeed her own children, and she opted to care for her brood herself, as opposed to leaving them in the care of an imperial nursery. Empress Michiko’s inclusion to the imperial family, in fact, helped boost their popularity.
Current Emperor Naruhito
He is the eldest son of Hirohito. Naruhito is also the first from the imperial family to have studied outside the country. He enrolled in a postgraduate course at Oxford University and wrote a memoir about his experiences overseas, citing these times as some of the happiest in his life.
Upon returning to Tokyo to obtain another degree at Gakushuin University, he met his wife Masako Owada.
Current Empress Masako
Masako studied at Oxford and Harvard and was in the running to become a diplomat. She and Naruhito were said to have met at a tea party for a Spanish princess in 1986. The empress initially declined Naruhito’s proposal, as she did not want marriage to interfere with her plans of becoming a diplomat.
After becoming the future emperor’s wife, Michiko was put under great pressure to bear a son, so much that she suffered a miscarriage and decided to fully withdraw from the public eye. Finally, Masako managed to get pregnant again in 2001, and gave birth to a daughter, Aiko.
Aiko, Princess Toshi
Princess Aiko is the only child of Japan’s current emperor and empress. She was educated in Japan but also decided to enroll in summer school at England’s Eton College. She plays the cello and competes in basketball games.
Aiko’s birth sparked a reconsideration of imperial traditions and laws, seeking to allow women to ascend to the throne. However, the debates were put on hold upon the birth of her male cousin.
Fumihito, Prince Akishino or Prince Aya is the younger of Emperor Akihito’s two sons. He received his education at Gakushuin University and went on to pursue his graduate studies at Oxford University, taking up zoology.
Kiko Kawashima is a daughter of an economics professor in Gakushuin University, where she met Prince Akishino. She gave birth to her first child, Princess Mako; followed by Princess Kako; and finally, a son, prince Hisahito.
The eldest of her siblings, 27-year-old Princess Mako was supposed to marry her commoner partner, Kei Komuro, and eventually give up her royal status. However, the union was met with controversy upon the revelation of Komuro’s reported financial issues. The wedding had been scheduled for November 2018, but was postponed to 2020, with Princess Mako announcing that she wished to think about her decision more deeply.
Kako is the second child of Prince Fumihito and Princess Kako. She recently completed her studies in 2018 at the University of Leeds, taking up classes in performing arts and psychology.
Prince Hisahito is second in line to the throne. As expected, his much-awaited birth made headlines, leading newspapers to prepare extra copies announcing the good news on the front page. Hisahito is the first male born into the imperial family in 41 years.
Sayako Kuroda (formerly Princess Nori)
Sayako Kuroda is the youngest child of former Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. As a member of the royal family, she was called Princess Nori or referred to as the Imperial Princess. She worked as an ornithologist.
In 2005, Princess Nori decided to marry Yoshiki Kuroda, a middle-aged government official she has known since childhood. Relinquishing her royal status, Sayako had to learn how to drive, take public transport, and shop for groceries. She also received a dowry of approximately one million pounds from the imperial family.