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Seal of the emperor
Seal of the emperor
Standard of the emperor
Standard of the emperor
Emperor Naruhito
Acting Emperor
since May 1, 2019
residence Tokyo Imperial Palace
Term of office for lifetime
Creation of office 660 BC BC (legendary date)
Final coronation October 22, 2019
Salutation Tennō heika
Imperial Majesty
Crown Prince Akishino
Website www.kunaicho.go.jp

Tennō ( Jap. 天皇 "Heavenly sovereign"), Germanized Tenno is a Japanese ruler's and titles of nobility, of the German often with " Emperor is translated," as well as looser use of the name for the dynastic race that in Japan this item has worn. Currently Naruhito is under the government motto (Japanese Nengō ) Reiwa ( Eng . "Beautiful harmony") the incumbent 126th Tennō.

The seat of the emperor and the imperial family is the Kōkyo in central Tokyo .


Originally the ruler of Wa or Yamato , as Japan was called at that time, was dubbed in the country as the " Great King " ( 大王 , Ōkimi ) or from or to the outside (China and Korea) as the "King of / the Wa" ( 倭王 ), "King of the land (of) Wa" ( 倭国 王 ) or "King of Great Wa [= Yamato]" ( 大 倭王 ). Other names were suberagi , sumeragi , sumerogi , sumera-mikoto or sumemima no mikoto . The first three are only phonetic variants of a term, the meaning of which is unclear, whereby the gi is probably a masculine suffix (see Izana-gi and Izana-mi ) and mikoto is an honorary title.

The imperial title 天皇 (Chin. Tiānhuáng , Japanese tennō ) itself comes from China, where it was briefly adopted by the Tang emperor Gaozong (r. 649–683) and his successor - the only empress of China - Wu Zetian (r. 684 / 690–) 705) was used. The latter presumably also because, in contrast to the traditional imperial title Huangdi ( Chinese  皇帝 ), it had no gender connotation . In Japan the title was first used by Temmu (r. 672-686) and then regularly by his successor Jitō (686-697). The historical chronicle Nihonshoki published by Temmus son Toneri in 720 also applied this term to all predecessors. The same characters were then given the alternative pronunciation sumeragi .

Later the title Mikado ( 御 門 , "illustrious gate") was added, which actually referred to the imperial palace and thus indirectly referred to the emperor, analogous to the title high gate in the Ottoman Empire . Therefore, the title Mikado was also written as ,, which is also used to designate the Chinese emperors and which originally meant “deity”, translated as “god emperor”. Similar other titles of the Tennō were Dairi ( 内 裏 , "inner interior") and Kinri ( 禁 裏 , "forbidden interior"), which referred to the interior of the palace.

At the beginning of his term of office, the Tennō issues a government motto ( nengō ), which may only be composed of 2 of 216 selected characters. It has officially been used as an ara designation since 1874 - before the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Nengō were also proclaimed by shoguns and prince regents, usually after significant natural or political events or on the basis of astrological considerations, and also changed during the term of office of a Tennō. Until his death, the Tennō bears his own name, which was obtained after his birth, but is never addressed or referred to by the Japanese (except perhaps within his family), but referred to as tennō heika (imperial majesty) or called kinjō tennō (the current Tennō). After his death he is only referred to by his government motto, which also forms the "death name", and the suffix -tennō. The name of the emperor Hirohito, who died in 1989, is now "Shōwa-tennō", derived from the name of his term of office, " Shōwa-jidai ", (German: "Era of enlightened peace").


The main function of the tennō today is of a purely ceremonial nature. The date of all official events, both state and business, is calculated according to the length of the reign of the current emperor.

Article 1 of the post-war constitution of 1946 states that the emperor is “the symbol of the state and the unity of the people”. Its political role is limited to a symbolic function that is legitimized by the people; de jure he is not a head of state .

Its political functions include appointing the Prime Minister and President of the Supreme Court , convening Parliament, promulgating laws, and receiving accreditation letters from foreign ambassadors. However, he has no decision-making power of his own in these matters. The Shōwa -Tennō Hirohito , who is considered to be jointly responsible for the Second World War , no longer took part in daily political events after the end of the war. After his death in 1989, his son Akihito continued this attitude, but on the occasion of state visits and audiences - unlike his father - he took a position on foreign policy issues, in particular the reconciliation with Japan's war opponents in World War II, although the Japanese believed that the constitution was his Government imposed tight limits.

In religious terms, the Tennō is considered the chief priest of Shintō . This sacred function goes back to the imperial harvest festival Niiname-sai ( 新 嘗 祭 , "cost of the new rice"). During this ritual, freshly harvested rice is offered to the gods by the emperor. In the first year after the emperor's accession to the throne, the festival is celebrated as Daijōsai ( 大 嘗 祭 , "great expense"). A first mention of this ritual, the origin of which is suspected even earlier, can be found in the historical work Nihonshoki from the year 720. The festival changed over time and became today's public holiday, the day of thanksgiving for work .

Imperial seal

The imperial seal shows a stylized chrysanthemum with 16 petals (or 32 petals). For this reason, the Japanese imperial throne is also known as the chrysanthemum throne . The Imperial Seal is only used by members of the Imperial family . Although there is no law that declares the imperial seal to be the national coat of arms , it is largely used as such and adorns, among other things, the cover of the Japanese passport.


The institution of the Tennō is up to the year 660 BC. Chr. Returned. According to a legend, Jimmu founded the Japanese imperial family when he ascended the throne this year . However, there is no evidence of this, the institution presumably only existed since the establishment of the Japanese state in the 5th century. There has been no change of dynasty since the establishment of the Yamato Empire . This continuity came about, among other things, because women could also be used for the Tennō office in exceptional cases, albeit only in a symbolic function. The affairs of state in these cases were carried out by their husbands, the Prince Regents . In the first Japanese imperial chronicles, which were written in 712 and 720, the sun deity Amaterasu is mentioned as the ancestor of Tennō.

The importance of the Tenno office has fluctuated greatly over the course of its history. From the 7th to the 8th century, the Tennō actually represented the highest level of government, but over time the decision-making power of the Tennō was increasingly restricted by regents , and finally by the shoguns . The shoguns took over practically all government power from the 12th to the 19th century, but they did not abolish the office of Tennō, but instead kept it as a legitimation of their own role. This powerlessness during most of Japanese history also indirectly ensured the continued existence of the dynasty; because whoever wanted to take power in the country did not have to depose the Tennō, but the regent or Shogun.

Antiquity and the Middle Ages

The Japanese Empire originally followed Chinese models. Military rulers, regents and sidelines, however, disempowered the emperors, abdicated ex-emperors interfered in the power struggles. The failed Kemmu restoration led to a half-century split into a northern and a southern dynasty . After that, the empire led only a pure shadow existence for almost half a millennium.

China and Yamato

In the 7th century Japan was under strong cultural and economic influence from Tang China , in addition to Buddhism and the Chinese script, the Chinese nobility and state structures were also adopted. The self-designation as Tennō for "Heavenly Ruler" and "Divine Emperor" also followed the Chinese model, but it also aimed at emancipation from the Empire of China and a political demarcation from Tang China. Only then were those basic Japanese chronicles and historical myths written from the end of the 7th century ( Asuka period ) or the beginning of the 8th century ( Nara period ), which claim a descent from the sun goddess Amaterasu and the legendary ruler Jimmu as the first Designate emperor (Tennō) (cf. original emperor of China ).

Regents and ex-emperors

Emperor Seiwa (850–881) was a puppet of the Fujiwara rulers and ancestor of the later Minamoto shoguns

As early as the 8th century, the influence of the rulers from the Fujiwara clan , who were gradually able to make the monopoly on the highest government office hereditary, grew. Since the 9th century they exercised the actual power of government instead of the emperor and married into the imperial family, in the 10th century they reached the height of their power under Fujiwara no Michinaga , the emperor had become a mere puppet.

In order to weaken the power of the Fujiwara and bypass the regents, Tennō Go-Sanjo founded the insi system in the 11th century . Older emperors abdicated and retired to the monastery, but continued to retain certain privileges that ensured them influence even under the rule of their younger successors.

The rise of the Taira clan began as the private army of numerous ex-emperors . Constant rivalries between ex-emperors, incumbent emperors and regents finally culminated in the 12th century in the Hōgen rebellion .

Taira and Minamoto

Members of the imperial family who did not succeed to the throne formed side lines, whose influence increased as did their striving for power. The most important of these imperial descendants or branch lines were the Minamoto and the Taira . (Minamoto is not only a declining to a certain Kaiserabkömmling offspring, but also a general term for an even later addition lines inclusive communities.) In the hōgen rebellion or the Heiji Rebellion , the Taira ousted the Fujiwara regents, however, were in Gempei War defeated by the Minamoto. From then on, the top management of Japan was divided into three parts.

Minamoto no Yoritomo was the first shogun (military regent) of Japan to seize actual power in 1192 , while formally the Hōjō (a branch of the Taira) as civil rulers continued to run the business of government for the emperor and curtailed the power of the ex-emperors after the Jōkyū war has been.

Restoration and splitting

Emperor Go-Daigo (1288-1339)

Tennō Go-Daigo tried from 1330 with a rebellion against the Hojo rulers and the deposition of the Minamoto Shogun to regain actual power, but the Ashikaga clan (a branch of the Minamoto) rebelled . Go-Daigo fled with his court from the capital Kyoto to Yoshino (southern court), while Ashikaga Takauji made himself a shogun, destroyed the Hojo, disempowered the office of regent and installed a counter-emperor from an older line of the dynasty in Kyoto (northern court).

The imperial dynasty split into an older (northern) and younger (southern) line. Although troops allied with the southern court succeeded in conquering Kyoto four times, the southern emperor Go-Kameyama finally abdicated in 1392 and submitted to the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu .

Modern times

As a shadow empire , the Tenno being also existed after the fall of the Ashikaga period , during the " Warring States " and the shogunless period and under the Tokugawa shoguns until the end of the Edo period .

It was not until the reforms of 1868, known as the Meiji Restoration , and the failure of the establishment of a republic on Hokkaido that the Tennō was given more political importance again. The ideological claim of these reforms was a return to the state of ancient times, when the Tennō still held all power. That is why one speaks of a restoration . However, this term is controversial, renovation or revolution is also used .

Nationalist imperial cult and constitutional monarchy

Propagandist-legitimist representation of Emperor Meiji and his wife Shōken (middle, seated) between the deities Kunitokotachi, Izanami and Izanagi (middle, standing), Hoori and Ugayafukiaezu (left, standing), Meiji's predecessors, his father Kōmei (right, sitting) and Empress Go-Sakuramachi (shown as a man), goddess Amaterasu , Ninigi and the former emperors Jimmu (right, standing), Momozono , Kōkaku and Meiji's grandfather Ninkō (left, seated), 1878

After 1868 the Japanese state was consistently transformed into a modern nation-state . The young Meiji- tennō was considered the head of the state, but de facto had more ceremonial functions than real political shaping possibilities even in this form of government. The constitution of 1889, which was based on the constitution of the Kingdom of Prussia , regarded the person of the emperor as inviolable and his appointed government was not responsible to parliament but to him.

As a symbol of the state, the Tennō played an even more important role in the nationalist state ideology, which was increasingly promoted, especially in the 20th century. The state was represented as a family, the Tennō as a father and the subjects as children ( familiarism ). In addition, no one was allowed to doubt the divine origin of the Tennō (as it is represented in the ancient myths). The Japanese policy of conquest, which finally reached its climax in World War II and Japanese war crimes, was carried out in the name of the Tennō.

Renewed disempowerment as a representative symbol

The institution of the Tennō was not abolished after the lost war under the US occupation , but the Tennō was relieved of all political functions. Over the radio, the Tennō called for peaceful obedience to the American occupiers. This call ( Gyokuon-hōsō ) was the first public vote of the Tennō at all. In addition, after the Communist victory in China, the Americans relied more on the conservative forces in Japan, who could not be expected to abolish the empire. There were also fears of unrest, as the extreme national-religious imperial cult of the last decades would have resulted in the abolition of the institution of a great humiliation of the Japanese people.

The fact that the Tennō still plays an important symbolic role in Japanese society can be seen from the fact that the official Japanese calendar has been following the era designation of the respective Tennō since 1979.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the imperial family of Japan had a major problem with their offspring , also due to the abolition of the once common polygamy and concubinates in the 19th century and the abolition of the Japanese nobility in 1946: Only five men are still alive today, those who follow current legal situation as heir to the throne in question, and four of them are already of advanced age. As a result, discussions arose about the admission of the female succession to the throne so that the daughter of the current Emperor Naruhito , Princess Aiko, could become Empress after his death.

On February 7, 2006, the Imperial Court Office announced that Princess Akishino was surprisingly pregnant again and was expecting the child in autumn. On September 6th, she gave birth to her son Hisahito , the first birth of a boy for the Japanese imperial family in more than forty years. According to the law, the boy is second in line to the throne after his father; the previously targeted change in the order of succession in favor of female succession has not been pursued since then.


In modern times, the enthronement of the Tennō is marked by two ceremonies. The official coronation ceremony ( 即位 の 礼 , Sokui no Rei ), at which the Prime Minister is present, frames the ceremonial ascension of the imperial throne ( 高 御座 , Takamikura ) and the formal assumption of the insignia of the throne of Japan . A more religious ceremony, the Daijōsai ( 大 嘗 祭 , also Ōnie no Matsuri ), is then organized by the Imperial Court Office. It is a Shinto sacrificial ritual.

Because of the constitutionally prohibited exercise of religious activities by the state (Article 20 of the Japanese Constitution ), some groups sued against the participation of public officials in the Daijōsai at the accession to the throne of Emperor Akihito, which despite its "private" nature is financed with public funds. Before that, the burial of the Shōwa-Tennō had triggered a public debate about the religious role of the Tennō ( see below ). The Supreme Court declared the enthronement ceremony and the participation of public officials to be constitutional because participation in enthronement rites as a "social ritual" did not affect the secular nature of the state. In the run-up to Akihito's accession to the throne, the government had already commissioned a commission to prepare for the ceremony and stipulated a strict separation of state and religious acts. The post-war law on the imperial family ( 皇室 典範 , kōshitsu tenpan ) provides for an enthronement ceremony in Article 24, but does not specify any details.

Funeral rites

At the death of the Tennō, according to the law on the imperial family, a great funeral rite ( 大 喪 の abzu , Taisō no Rei ) is to be held. The rite as such makes use of Shinto symbolism, but despite the contrary view of the imperial family, it is an invention of the Meiji period with its policy of separating Shinto and Buddhism ( Shinbutsu-Bunri ) - before that, like most other Japanese, the Tenno received a Buddhist funeral. The last such rite was performed on February 24, 1989 at the funeral of Shōwa-tennō Hirohito . It was the first time that this ceremony took place after the Second World War and after the political and constitutional redefinition of the Empire. This almost led to a state crisis and protests in other Asian countries, as it was very difficult to delimit the religious and state functions and meanings during the rite.

See also


Web links

Commons : Tennō  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Tenno  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Conrad Totman: A History of Japan . Blackwell, 2001, ISBN 0-631-21447-X , pp. 66–67 ( limited preview in Google Book Search).
  2. ^ Sympathy - but no apology , BBC News, May 12, 1998.
  3. ^ History lesson from Japan emperor , BBC News, December 23, 2005
  4. ^ Press conference on the Emperor's birthday in 2001 .
  5. cf. the discussion about the declaration of regret against Korea, documents z. B. in: The New York Times, May 25, 1990: Japanese express remorse to Korea .
  6. Nozomu Shimizu: The "Tenno System". A Constitutional Study on Postwar Japan. In: Yearbook of Public Law. New episode. Volume 29. JCB Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen, 1980, pp. 623-656; here p. 649.
  7. Embassy of Japan: Feature: Japanese Holidays in November. Retrieved November 22, 2012.
  8. The Brockhaus in Text and Image 2003 [SW], electronic edition for the office library, Bibliographisches Institut & FA Brockhaus, 2003; Article: Jimmu Tenno .
  9. Meyer lexicon -SW-, electronic edition of Office library, Meyers Lexicon publisher; Keyword: Tenno .
  10. Time Magazine, November 19, 1928: Emperor Enthroned Article about the Shōwa Emperor's accession to the throne
  11. Takamori Akinori:  "Daijōsai" . In: Encyclopedia of Shinto. Kokugaku-in , January 29, 2007 (English)
  12. Japan Times, July 10, 2002: Top court OKs officials' attendance of Shinto rite , accessed December 20, 2007.
  13. ^ Tanaka Nobumasa: The Imperial Succession and Japanese Democracy: Citizens' Court Challenge Denied. Translation by Julie Higashi in: Japan Focus .
  14. ^ New York Times, December 17, 1989: Japanese Debate How to Enthrone Emperor , accessed May 8, 2009.
  15. ↑ Moments of Fate of the Empire in FAZ from June 29, 2016, page N3