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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
tenure for lifetime
creation of the office 660 BC (legendary date)
Last coronation October 22, 2019
salutation Tennō heika
Imperial Majesty
crown prince Akishino
site www.kunaicho.go.jp

Tennō ( Jap. 天皇"Heavenly Ruler"), Germanized Tenno , is a Japanese ruler and nobility title, which is often translated as " Kaiser " in German, as well as the name for the dynastic family in Japan , which is used loosely has worn. Naruhito is currently the reigning 126th Tennō under the government motto (Japanese Nengō ) Reiwa (Eng. "beautiful harmony").

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 then called, was dubbed “ Great King ” (大王, Ōkimi ) within the country or “King of/of Wa” (倭王), "King of the Land (of) Wa" (倭国王) or "King of Great Wa [= Yamato]" (大倭王). Other designations were suberagi , sumeragi , sumerogi , sumera-mikoto or sumemima no mikoto . The first three are just phonetic variants of a term whose meaning is unclear, with the gi probably being a masculine suffix (cf. Izana-gi and Izana-mi ) and mikoto an honorific.

The imperial title天皇(chin. tiānhuáng , Japanese tennō ) itself comes from China, where it was briefly used by the Tang Emperor Gaozong (r. 649–683) and his successor – the only empress of China – Wu Zetian (r. 684/690– 705), the latter presumably also because, in contrast to the traditional imperial title皇帝(Chinese huángdì , Japanese kōtei ), it contained no gender connotation . In Japan, the title was first used by Temmu (r. 672–686), and then periodically by his successor Jitō (686–697). The Nihonshoki chronicle published by Temmu's son Toneri in 720 also applied this term to all predecessors. The same characters were then given the alternative pronunciation sumeragi . The term皇帝, on the other hand, established itself as a designation for all non-Japanese emperors, in contrast to the Tennō.

Later, the title Mikado (御門, "exalted gate") was added, which actually referred to the imperial palace and thus indirectly referred to the emperor, analogous to the title Sublime Porte in the Ottoman Empire . Therefore, the title Mikado was also written as, which is also used to designate the Chinese emperors and originally meant "deity", ie translated "god emperor". Similar other titles of the Tennō were Dairi (内裏, "inner interior") and Kinri (禁裏, "forbidden interior"), which referred to the innermost part 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 also served as an official era designation since 1874 - prior to the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the nengō were also promulgated by shoguns and prince regents, usually following significant natural or political events or based on astrological considerations, and also changed during a tennō's tenure. Until his death, the tennō bears his proper name received after his birth, but is never addressed or referred to as such by the Japanese (except perhaps within his family), but is addressed 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 Emperor Hirohito, who died in 1989, is now "Shōwa-tennō", derived from the designation of his term of office, " Shōwa-jidai " (Eng. "era of enlightened peace").


The main function of the tennō today is purely ceremonial. The date of all official occasions, both state and business, is calculated according to the length of the current emperor's reign ( Japanese calendar ).

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

Its political functions include appointing the Prime Minister and the President of the Supreme Court ( Shinninshiki ), convening Parliament, promulgating laws, and receiving letters of accreditation 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 responsible for the Second World War , no longer participated 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 commented on foreign policy issues, in particular reconciliation with Japan's wartime enemies in World War II, although the constitution, according to the Japanese government imposed strict limits.

In religious terms, the tennō is considered the supreme priest of Shintō . This sacred function dates back to the imperial harvest festival Niiname-sai (新嘗祭, "cost of the new rice"). In 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 Taste"). A first mention of this ritual, the origin of which is assumed to be 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 thanks 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 used only by members of the Imperial Family . Although there is no law that declares the imperial seal to be the national emblem , it is widely used as such and adorns the cover of the Japanese passport, among other things.


The institution of the tennō is known until the year 660 BC. attributed. According to legend, Jimmu founded the Japanese imperial family in this year when he ascended the throne. However, there is no evidence for this, the institution probably only existed since the founding of the Japanese state in the 5th century. There has been no change of dynasty since the founding 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. In these cases, the affairs of state were carried out by their husbands, the prince regents. In the first Japanese imperial chronicles, which were drawn up in 712 and 720, the sun deity Amaterasu is cited as the ancestor of Tennō.

The importance of the tennō office has fluctuated greatly throughout its history. From the 7th to the 8th centuries the tennō were indeed the supreme body of government, but over time the decision-making power of the tennō was increasingly restricted by regents and finally by the shoguns . From the 12th to the 19th century, the shoguns took over practically all governmental power, but they did not abolish the office of tennō, but retained it as a legitimation of their own role. This impotence, too, during most of Japanese history indirectly ensured the continued existence of the dynasty; because whoever wanted to take over power in the country did not have to depose the tennō, but the regent or shōgun.

Antiquity and the Middle Ages

The Japanese empire originally followed Chinese models. However, military rulers, regents and sidelines stripped the emperors of their power, and ex-emperors who had abdicated got involved in the power struggles. The failed Kemmu Restoration led to a half-century split into Northern and Southern dynasties . After that, the empire led a shadowy existence for almost half a millennium.

China and Yamato

In the 7th century Japan was under the strong cultural and economic influence of Tang China , in addition to Buddhism and 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 Chinese Empire and a political demarcation from Tang China. Only then, from the end of the 7th century ( Asuka period ) and the beginning of the 8th century ( Nara period ), were those basic Japanese chronicles and historical myths written that claim descent from the sun goddess Amaterasu and the legendary ruler Jimmu as the first Denote Emperor (Tennō) (cf. Urkaiser Chinas ).

regents and ex-emperors

Emperor Seiwa (850-881) was a puppet of the Fujiwara regents and progenitor of the later Minamoto shoguns

The influence of the regents from the Fujiwara clan , who were gradually able to make the monopoly on the highest government office hereditary, grew as early as the 8th century . From the 9th century they exercised actual government power in place of the emperor and married into the imperial family, in the 10th century they reached the peak 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 established the Insei system in the 11th century . Older emperors abdicated and retired to monasteries, but retained certain privileges that ensured their influence under the rule of their younger successors.

As a private army of numerous ex-emperors, the rise of the Taira clan began. Constant rivalries between ex-emperors, reigning emperors and regents eventually 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 sidelines whose influence increased as did their striving for power. The most important of these imperial descendants or subsidiary lines were the Minamoto and the Taira . (Minamoto is not only a descendant that goes back to a specific descendant of the emperor, but also a general umbrella term for a clan that also includes later side lines.) In the Hōgen Rebellion and the Heiji Rebellion , the Taira deposed the Fujiwara regents, but were Defeated by the Minamoto in the Gempei War . The leadership of Japan was henceforth divided into three parts.

Minamoto no Yoritomo seized actual power in 1192 as the first shogun (military regent) of Japan, while formally the Hōjō (a branch of the Taira) continued to conduct government affairs for the emperor as civil regents and curtailed the power of the ex-emperors after the Jōkyū War would.

restoration and cleavage

Emperor Go-Daigo (1288–1339)

Tennō Go-Daigo tried to regain actual power from 1330 with a rebellion against the Hojo regents and the dismissal of the Minamoto shogun , 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 proclaimed himself shogun, destroyed Hojo, deposed the regent's office and installed an anti-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, in 1392 the Southern Emperor Go-Kameyama finally abdicated and submitted to the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu .

modern times

As a shadow empire, the Tennō entity continued to exist after the fall of the Ashikaga period , during the "Warring States" and shogunless periods , and under the Tokugawa shoguns until the end of the Edo period .

Only through the reforms of 1868, known as the Meiji Restoration , and through the failure to found a republic on Hokkaido , did the Tennō regain more political importance. The ideological claim of these reforms was a return to the polity of antiquity, when the tennō still held all power. Therefore one also speaks of a restoration . However, this term is controversial, and renovation or revolution is also common .

Nationalist emperor cult and constitutional monarchy

Propagandistic-legitimistic depiction of Emperor Meiji and his wife Shōken (centre, seated) between the deities Kunitokotachi, Izanami and Izanagi (centre, standing), Hoori and Ugayafukiaezu (left, standing), Meiji's predecessors, his father Kōmei (right, seated) and Empress Go-Sakuramachi (depicted as a man), goddess Amaterasu , Ninigi , and previous 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 opportunities in this form of government. The constitution of 1889, which was modeled on the constitution of the Kingdom of Prussia , saw the person of the emperor as inviolable and his appointed government was answerable not to parliament but to him.

As a symbol of the state, however, the tennō played an all the more important role in the nationalist state ideology, which was increasingly promoted especially in the 20th century. The state was presented as a family, the tennō as a father, and the subjects as children ( familialism ). Furthermore, no one was allowed to doubt the divine origin of the Tennō (as depicted in the ancient myths). The Japanese policy of conquest, which finally reached its climax in World War II and Japanese war crimes, was also carried out in the name of the tennō.

Renewed disempowerment as a representative symbol

The institution of the tennō was not abolished under the US occupation after the lost war, 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 voice transmission of the tennō ever. In addition, after the victory of the communists in China, the Americans relied more on the conservative forces in Japan, who could not be expected to abolish the empire. Furthermore, there were fears of unrest, since the extreme national-religious emperor cult of the last few decades would have meant a great humiliation of the Japanese people if the institution were abolished.

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 young people , also due to the abolition of the once common polygamy and concubinage in the 19th century and the abolition of the Japanese nobility in 1946: Only five men are still alive today, who after current legal situation as heir to the throne in question, and four of them are already of advanced age. Discussions subsequently arose about allowing female succession to the throne so that the current Emperor Naruhito 's daughter , Princess Aiko, could become empress upon his death.

On February 7, 2006, the Imperial Court announced that Princess Akishino was unexpectedly pregnant again and was expecting the child in the fall. On September 6, she gave birth to their son Hisahito , the Japanese imperial family 's first birth of a boy in more than forty years. The boy is second in line to the throne by law after his father; the previously planned change in the order of succession to the throne 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 accession to the imperial throne (高御座, Takamikura ) and the formal assumption of the throne regalia 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 state's constitutional ban on engaging in religious activities (Article 20 of the Japanese Constitution ), some groups have objected to the participation of public officials in the Daijōsai upon Emperor Akihito's accession to the throne, which, despite its "private" nature, is publicly funded. A public debate about the religious role of the Tennō had already been triggered by the burial of the Shōwa-Tennō ( see below ). The Supreme Court declared the enthronement ceremony and the participation of public officials as constitutional because participation in the enthronement rites as a "social ritual" does not detract from the secular nature of the state. In the run-up to Akihito's accession to the throne, the government had commissioned a commission to prepare the ceremony and provided for a strict separation of state and religious acts. The post-war Imperial Family Law (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 Imperial Family Law, a grand funeral rite (大喪の礼, Taisō no Rei ) is to be held. The rite as such uses strong Shinto symbolism, but is an invention of the Meiji period, with its policy of separating Shintō and Buddhism ( Shinbutsu-Bunri ), despite the imperial family's opinion to the contrary. Before that, the Tennō, like most other Japanese, a Buddhist funeral. Such a rite was last performed on February 24, 1989 at the funeral of Shōwa-tennō Hirohito . It was the first time this ceremony was held after World War II and the political and constitutional reorganization of the Empire. This almost led to a state crisis and to protests in other Asian countries, since it was very difficult to differentiate between 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 meaning, word origin, synonyms, translations


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