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Home » 3. Institutions and Administrative Practices » The Emperor
Kōikeishō
The Imperial succession. Prior to the Taika era (645-650 CE) the process is unclear, but from the Ōjin era (270-310AD), agnatic succession (fraternal succession, not stem patrilineal succession) was dominant. According to current scholarship, the succession passed to the eldest son of the Emperor, called the ōine, and then each of his younger brothers in turn. Then the eldest royal brother's son would succeed in a repetitive cycle of succession. With the introduction of the ritsuryō system and the influence of Chinese law, the succession of the Imperial rank directly to the son was adopted for a time. However, the succession did not always take place according to this principle, and whilst admitting the primacy of the legitimate son, the succession was influenced by the political situation of the time, decided by Imperial command or set down in the deceased Emperor's will, or being decided by the retired Emperor, maternal relatives or other powerful retainers. Whilst only males were qualified to succeed to the Imperial rank, there were female monarchs (jotei) as well. From Empress Suiko (reigned 592-628 CE) to Empress Gosakuramachi (reigned 1762-1771 CE) during the Edo period, there were eight Empresses who ruled for a total of ten reigns (because two of them reassumed the throne after retiring, thus ruling twice). Among these are former Empress-consorts (kōgō). In any case, these reigns all had a strong transitional nature.
       Prior to the Taika era succession took place only after the death of a monarch. But thereafter there were numerous abdications and in a few cases, Emperors even reascended the throne after retiring (chōso). The Imperial Household Law (Kōshitsu tenpan) of 1889 mandated that only male-line princes could succeed, thereby disqualifying females. The order of succession was also regulated and the following principles were established. Direct descendants of the Emperor took precedence, and only when there were no direct descendents did the collateral descendents succeed. The line of the eldest son took precedence, and only when no qualified heir existed in this line did the succession go to the line of the next eldest son. Legitimate heirs were preferred, and only when no legitimate heirs existed did the succession go to an illegitimate son. The law was strongly influenced by European ideas of the time, especially the idea of primogeniture that can be seen in the Royal House Law of Imperial Germany. The system of Imperial abdication was abolished and the death of the previous Emperor became the sole cause of succession. The current Imperial Household Law of 1947 generally continues the practices of the previous law, but does not allow for illegitimate offspring to succeed and provides that in the case of an incurable illness afflicting the heir, the order of succession can be altered by an Imperial Household conference.

— Kobayashi Hiroshi
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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