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Home » 3. Institutions and Administrative Practices » The Emperor
Tennōsei, Tennōseido
There are many details of the origins of the Tennō (Heavenly Sovereign or Emperor) and the various associated systems that are unclear. However, there are ancient beliefs set out in the Kikishinwa (the mythology expressed in the Kojiki and Nihongi) that the descendants of Amaterasu pass down the rank of emperor through the generations and, as the symbols of their rank, the successive Emperors have transmitted to their heirs the three sacred regalia (sanshū no shinki) — the sword, jewel, and mirror. After the Taika Reforms (646 CE) continental thinking and administration systems (ritsuryō) were adopted. A imperial capital built on a grid pattern and divided into wards (jōbō) was constructed. Various court ceremonies such as those associated with succession (sokui, senso), transmission of the royal rank to a successor through abdication (jōi), distribution of the calendar to the provinces (hanreki), and proclamation of a new era name (kaigen) were all regularized; the official title (tennō) as well as the bureaucratic post and rank (kan'i) system were established, all in the continental in style. Nonetheless, old ways probably persisted in palace rites and also ceremonies of royal succession. For instance, the rite of royal initiation known as the Daijōsai is actually a sort of purification ritual (taishi) and The Grand Shrines of Ise (Ise Jingū) where Amaterasu is enshrined was deeply venerated as "the great shrine" (taisha), various regular and extraordinary rites were stipulated and the Department of Divinities (Jingikan) was established to take charge of these. In addition, the Imperial Household Ministry (Kunaishō) was established to oversee the affairs of palace and Emperor. The Tennō system as constituted by the ritsuryō codes was significantly restricted by the emergence of both the cloistered Emperor system and also the rise of military regimes from the Middle Age and Early Modern Period. Most of the functions atrophied and were to mere framework, and yet the Kyoto court continued to function until the end of the Edo Period (1603-1868). Recent research has made it clear that even during the Warring States Period, when the position's power was at it's weakest, the Tennō still held a powerful right of mediation (chōteiken). Therefore, the so-called Restoration of Imperial Rule (ōsei fukko) in 1868 pushed to the fore the entire ritsuryō Emperor system as it had been practiced at the court from the Nara Period through to the Edo Period, and does not represent a revival of a completed disrupted ritsuryō system.
       In the modern period, as Japan came to have more exchange with Western European countries, the need arose for it to fall into step with the monarchical systems of the West. This led to reexamination of such matters as the title of the Tennō, official documentation, and diplomatic protocols as well as the consideration of the legal position of the Tennō, the scope of the Imperial family and the issue of the succession (kōi keishō). On 11 February 1889, the Imperial Household Law (Kōshitsu tenpan) and Constitution were proclaimed. As well as having the position of ruling the nation and commanding the Army and Navy, a more modern looking Tennō system was created. This included the revocation of the power of the Emperor to create Imperial princes (shinnō senge) which had existed since the Heian period; the clarification of the order of succession, which had been previously been based on the reigning Emperor's will; and also the denial of the previous systems of abdication and female Emperors. However, only the basic provisions of the Emperor system were set out in the Imperial Household Law and constitution, however, so many royal rites and subjects concerning the imperial family were only systematized later, in a series of Imperial Ordinances beginning in 1907.
       According to the Showa constitution, the Tennō is the symbol of the unity of the people and beyond the acts of state enumerated in the constitution, the Emperor's role in national government disappeared, with most of the traditional rites of the palace became private affairs of the imperial household. Nonetheless, reverence for the tennō and the imperial household remain strong and this is complemented with various imperial household rites being performed to support the people. In addition, the Emperor and other members of the imperial family play a major role in non-political "imperial household diplomacy," nurturing good relations with other countries around the world. Until the present the term tennōsei has been widely used when discussing the emperor and the imperial household, but because this term has been used for the purpose of criticizing the Emperor's existence, recently there has been a trend to use the more value-neutral term "tennō-seido" instead.

— Shima Zenkō
Footage of the area around Nijūbashi Bridge at the Imperial Palace. This spot has become a popular sightseeing destination and attracts a large number of tourists.

Tokyo, 2007

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