The Empresses Regnant of Japan

The Japanese monarchy is the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world. It has 125 monarchs beginning with the legendary Emperor Jimmu who descended from the sun goddess, Amaterasu through her grandson Ningi, as well as a descendant of the storm god, Susanoo and continuing up to the incumbent Emperor, Akihito.

In Japanese, the Emperor is called Tenno (天皇) which means “heavenly sovereign”.

Under the present constitution of Japan, the Emperor is “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people” and “he has no powers related to government”. Historically, the Japanese Emperor is the highest authority in the Shinto religion.

On August 8, 2016, a rare televised address was given by the emperor where he emphasized his declining health and advance age.

The Crown Prince of Japan, Naruhito in 2015

On May 19, 2017, a bill that would allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate was issued by the Japanese government. The bill was passed by the Japanese parliament on June 8, 2017 allowing Akihito to abdicate. Crown Prince Naruhito is expected to take over Akihito’s role as emperor. The expected date of his abdication would be on March 31, 2019. It would be the first time a Japanese emperor has stepped down since Emperor Kokaku in 1817. Emperor Akihito would be known as Emperor Heisei (平成天皇 Heisei Tennō) after he steps down.

Princess Aiko, daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito in 2016

Before the Meiji Restoration (reforms established by Emperor Meiji to the imperial rule in Japan), Japan had eight reigns of Empresses. In the current constitution, female members of the royal family are not allowed to inherit the Chrysanthemum Throne therefore the only daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito, Princess Aiko is not allowed to become empress regnant.

There are several proposals to change the current succession rules after the announcement of the Crown Prince’s younger brother, Prince Fumihito and his wife, Princess Kiko, that they were expecting their third child in early 2006. On September 6, 2006, Princess Kiko, gave birth to a son, Hisahito who is on the third line in the Chrysanthemum Throne under the current law.

The Empresses Regnant of Japanese History

Below is a list of the eight women that have served as Tenno (reigning empress) in Japanese history. The most recent empress regnant of Japan was Empress Go-Sakuramachi who abdicated in 1771 in favor of her nephew, Emperor Go-Momozono.

Empress Suiko (推古天皇 Suiko Tennō)

  • Her birth name is Nukatabe.
  • She is the 33rd Japanese empress from 593 to 628.
  • She is the first woman to hold the position of empress regnant.

Empress Kogyoku (皇極天皇 Kōgyoku Tennō), also Empress Saimei (斉明天皇 Saimei Tennō)

  • Her birth name is Takara.
  • She is the 35th and 37th empress of Japan from 642 to 645 and on 655 to 661.
  • When she abdicated on her first reign as Empress Kogyoku, her brother succeeded her. However, when her brother died, she then reascended the throne as Empress Saimei on 655.

Empress Jito (持統天皇 Jitō Tennō)

  • Her birth name is Unonosasara.
  • She is the 41st empress of Japan from 686 to 697.

Empress Genmei (元明天皇 Genmei Tennō)

  • Her birth name is Ahe.
  • She is the 43rd empress of Japan from 707-715.

Empress Gensho (元正天皇 Genshō Tennō) 

  • Her birth name is Hitaka.
  • She is the 44th empress of Japan from 715 to 724.

Empress Koken (孝謙天皇 Kōken Tennō), also Empress Shōtoku (称徳天皇 Shōtoku Tennō)

  • Her birth name is Abe.
  • She was the 46th empress of Japan from 749 to 758 as Empress Koken and 48th empress of Japan from 764 to 770 as Empress Shotoku.

Empress Meisho (明正天皇 Meishō Tennō)

  • Her birth name is Okiko.
  • She was the 109th empress of Japan from December 22, 1629, to November 14, 1643.
  • Being the only surviving child, she ascended the throne after her father’s abdication.

Empress Go-Sakuramachi (後桜町天皇 Go-Sakuramachi Tennō)

  • Her birth name is Toshiko.
  • She is the 117th empress of Japan from September 15, 1762, to January 9, 1771.
  • She abdicated in favor of her nephew who would later become Emperor Go-Momozono in January 9, 1771.
  • She is the most recent empress regnant of Japan.



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