A Game of Thrones: Japan’s Emperor System

the chrysanthemum throne

Today there are more than 190 monarchs worldwide, but only Japan has an Emperor descended from an “uninterrupted bloodline” that dates back over 2,000 years. However, the elusive lives of the symbolic head of state and his family were mostly unknown to the public until 2003. We take a peak behind the curtain and see what it takes to sit on the Chrysanthemum Throne.


The Emperor of Japan is the head of the Imperial Family, and serves as the symbolic head of state of Japan. The most modern definition is stated in the 1947 constitution as being “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people.” The emperor is called tennō (天皇) in Japanese, which literally means “heavenly sovereign”. The role is also the highest authority of the Shinto religion, and throughout Japanese history, the emperor has helped shape Japan in number of ways – including economics, politics, religion, culture, and art.

The Chrysanthemum Throne, known as the kōi (皇位) in Japanese, is the throne of the Emperor of Japan. The term is often used as a blanket-term for the monarchy of Japan, but also can refer to specific thrones, like the Takamikura (高御座) throne at Kyoto Imperial Palace.

Photo: The Jakarta Post

The First Emperor

Japan’s Imperial reign is the world’s oldest hereditary monarchy. According to the ancient recordings of the Kojiki (712) and Nihon Shoki (720), legends say the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami passed down 3 special treasures – a mirror, jewels, and a sword, to her descendant, who was the legendary first emperor Jimmu.

These eighth-century chronicles date Jimmu’s reign as far back to 660 BC, when the he is said to have first taken the throne. Japan’s emperors have looked after these 3 sacred imperial regalia ever since.

For most of Japan’s imperial institution history, the …continue reading