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Emperor Akihito cropped 3 Barack Obama Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko 20140424 1.jpg
The Emperor in 2014
Emperor of Japan
Reign 7 January 1989 – 30 April 2019
Enthronement 12 November 1990
Predecessor Shōwa
Successor Naruhito
Prime Ministers See list
Born Tsugunomiya (継宮?) Akihito (明仁?)
(1933-12-23) 23 December 1933 (age 88)
Tokyo Imperial Palace, Tokyo City, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan
(now Chiyoda ward, Tokyo, Japan)
Spouse Michiko Shōda (m. 1959)
Era name and dates
Heisei: 8 January 1989 – 30 April 2019
House Imperial House of Japan
Father Emperor Shōwa
Mother Empress Kōjun
Religion Shinto
Signature [[File:Heisei shomei.svg|125px|alt=|Akihito's signature]]

Akihito (明仁?, Japanese: [akiçi̥to], English Listeni/ˌækiˈht/ or /ˌɑːk-/; born 23 December 1933) is a member of the Imperial House of Japan who reigned as the 125th Emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession, from 7 January 1989 until his abdication on 30 April 2019, Heisei era. He succeeded to the Chrysanthemum Throne upon the death of his father, Emperor Showa (Hirohito). Upon abdication due to his age and declining health,[1] he became emperor emeritus. He was succeeded by his elder son, Naruhito.


In Japan, during his reign, Akihito was never referred to by his given name, but rather was referred to as "His Majesty the Emperor" (天皇陛下 Tenno Heika?) which may be shortened to "His Majesty" (陛下 Heika?).[2][not in citation given] The era of Akihito's reign from 1989 to 2019 bears the name Heisei (平成?), and according to custom he will be renamed Emperor Heisei (平成天皇 Heisei Tennō?, see "posthumous name") by order of the Cabinet after his death.

Upon Akihito's abdication on 30 April 2019, he received the title of Jōkō (上皇?, 'Emperor Emeritus'), an abbreviated form of Daijō Tennō (太上天皇?, 'abdicated sovereign').[3][4][5] A new era, Reiwa (令和?), was established when his son, Emperor Naruhito, acceded to the throne.

Life and work

Prince Akihito with his mother, Empress Kōjun, in 1934

Akihito (明仁) was born on 23 December 1933 (am 6:39) in the Tokyo Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan as the fifth child and the eldest son of the Emperor Shōwa (father; Hirohito) and the Empress Kōjun (mother; Nagako), they had seven children, two sons and five daughters as their parents. Titled Prince Tsugu (継宮 Tsugu-no-miya?) as a child, the emperor was educated by his private tutors prior to attending the elementary and secondary departments of the Peers' School (Gakushūin) from 1940 to 1952.[6] Unlike his predecessors in the Imperial family, he did not receive a commission as an army officer, at the request of his father, the Emperor Hirohito.

During the American firebombing raids on Tokyo in March 1945, Akihito and his younger brother, Prince Masahito, were evacuated from the city. During the American occupation of Japan following World War II, Prince Akihito was tutored in the English language and Western manners by Elizabeth Gray Vining. He briefly studied at the Department of Political Science at Gakushuin University in Tokyo, though he never received a degree.

Akihito was heir-apparent to the Chrysanthemum Throne from the moment of his birth. His formal Investiture as Crown Prince (立太子の礼 Rittaishi-no-rei?) was held at the Tokyo Imperial Palace on 10 November 1952. In June 1953 Akihito represented Japan at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London, the UK.[6]

The newly married Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko in Japanese traditional attire, with the Prince wearing a sokutai, the Princess a jūnihitoe, 1959

Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko made official visits to thirty-seven countries. As an Imperial Prince, Akihito compared the role of Japanese royalty to that of a robot. He expressed the desire to help bring the Imperial family closer to the people of Japan.[7]

Upon the death of Emperor Hirohito on 7 January 1989, Akihito acceded to the throne,[8][9] became the 125th Emperor of Japan with the enthronement ceremony taking place on 12 November 1990.[6] In 1998, during a state visit to the United Kingdom, he was invested with the UK Order of the Garter.

Crown Prince Akihito visits MGM studios in 1953

On 23 December 2001, during his annual birthday meeting with reporters, the Emperor, in response to a reporter's question about tensions with South Korea, remarked that he felt a kinship with Koreans and went on to explain that, in the Shoku Nihongi, the mother of Emperor Kammu (736–806) is related to Muryeong of Korea, King of Baekje, a fact that was considered taboo for discussion.[10][11]

Emperor Akihito underwent surgery for prostate cancer on 14 January 2003.[12]

In response to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima I nuclear crisis, the Emperor made a historic televised appearance[13] urging his people not to give up hope and to help each other.[14] The Emperor and Empress also made a visit on Wednesday, 30 March 2011 to a temporary shelter housing refugees of the disaster, in order to inspire hope in the people. This kind of event is also extremely rare, though in line with the Emperor's attempts to bring the Imperial family closer to the people.[15] Later in 2011 he was admitted to hospital suffering from pneumonia.[16] In February 2012, it was announced that the Emperor would be having a coronary examination;[17] he underwent successful heart bypass surgery on 18 February 2012.[18]

Marriage and family

Then-Crown Prince Akihito on his wedding day, 10 April 1959
File:Akihito and Michiko at Andrews Air Force Base 1987.jpg
1987 (Showa 62), the last foreign visit as the crown prince (America)
File:Emperor Akihito 199011 1.jpg
Emperor Akihito wore the sokutai at the enthronement ceremony on November 1990

In August 1957, he met Michiko Shōda[6][19] on a tennis court at Karuizawa near Nagano. Initially there was low enthusiasm for the relationship between the couple. Michiko Shōda was considered too low-born for the young Crown Prince and was educated in a Catholic environment. Therefore, in September 1958, she was sent away to Brussels to attend an international conference of the Alumnae du Sacré-Cœur. The Crown Prince was determined to keep in contact with his girlfriend but also didn't want to commit a diplomatic incident. Therefore, he contacted the young King Baudouin of Belgium to send his messages directly towards his loved one. Later King Baudouin also negotiated the marriage of the couple with the Emperor directly stating that if the Crown Prince is happy with Michiko, he would be a better emperor later on.[20]

The Imperial Household Council formally approved the engagement of the Crown Prince to Michiko Shōda on 27 November 1958. At that time, the media presented their encounter as a real "fairy tale",[21] or the "romance of the tennis court". It was the first time a commoner had married into the Imperial Family, breaking more than 2,600 years of tradition.[22] The engagement ceremony took place on 14 January 1959, and the marriage on 10 April 1959.

The Emperor and Empress had three children: sons Naruhito (born 23 February 1960) and Fumihito, Prince Akishino (born 30 November 1965), and daughter Mrs. Sayako Kuroda (born 18 April 1969).[6]

The announcement about the then-Crown Prince Akihito's engagement and marriage to the then-Ms. Michiko Shōda drew opposition from traditionalist groups, because Shōda came from a Roman Catholic family.[23] Although Shōda was never baptized, she was educated in Catholic schools and seemed to share the faith of her parents. Rumors also speculated that Empress Kōjun had opposed the engagement. After the death of Empress Kōjun in 2000, Reuters reported that she was one of the strongest opponents of her son's marriage, and that in the 1960s, she had driven her daughter-in-law and grandchildren to depression by persistently accusing her of not being suitable for her son.[24][not in citation given]

Official functions

According to the Constitution of Japan, the Emperor is "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people". Unlike other constitutional monarchs, his function is defined as entirely representative and ceremonial in nature, without even a nominal role in government. He is limited to acting in matters of state as delineated in the Constitution, and even in those matters, he is bound by the requirements of the Constitution and the binding advice of the Cabinet. For instance, while he formally appoints the Prime Minister, he is required to appoint the person designated by the Diet, without the option to decline appointment.

Despite being strictly constrained by his constitutional position, he also issued several wide-ranging statements of remorse to Asian countries, for their suffering under Japanese occupation, beginning with an expression of remorse to China made in April 1989, three months after the death of his father, the Emperor Showa (Hirohito).

In June 2005, the Emperor visited the island of Saipan (part of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory),[25] the site of a battle in the World War II from 15 June to 9 July 1944 (known as the Battle of Saipan). Accompanied by Empress Michiko, he offered prayers and flowers at several memorials, honoring not only the Japanese who died, but also American soldiers, Korean labourers, and local islanders. It was the first trip by a Japanese monarch to a World War II battlefield abroad. The Saipan journey was received with high praise by the Japanese people, as were the Emperor's visits to war memorials in Tokyo, Hiroshima Prefecture, Nagasaki Prefecture and Okinawa Prefecture in 1995.

Since succeeding to the throne, Akihito has made an effort to bring the Imperial family closer to the Japanese people. He and Michiko have made official visits to eighteen countries and to all forty-seven Prefectures of Japan.[6]


Emperor Akihito, at Chōwaden Reception Hall, giving a New Year's address to the Japanese people in 2010.

On 6 September 2006, the Emperor celebrated the birth of his first grandson, Prince Hisahito, the third child of the Emperor's younger son. Prince Hisahito is the first male heir born to the Japanese imperial family in 41 years (since his father Prince Akishino) and could avert a possible succession crisis as the Emperor's elder son, the then Crown Prince Naruhito, has only one daughter, Princess Aiko. Under Japan's male-only succession law, Princess Aiko is not eligible for the throne. The birth of Prince Hisahito could mean that proposed changes to the law to allow Aiko to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne will not go through after being temporarily shelved following the announcement of Princess Kiko's third pregnancy in February 2006.[26] The supporters of changes criticized the current law as it placed a burden on the few aging males old enough to perform royal duties as females left the family.[27]


On 13 July 2016, national broadcaster NHK reported that the Emperor intended to abdicate in favor of his eldest son Crown Prince Naruhito within a few years, citing his age. An abdication within the Imperial Family has not occurred since Emperor Kōkaku in 1817. However, senior officials within the Imperial Household Agency denied that there was any official plan for the monarch to abdicate. Abdication by the Emperor required an amendment to the Imperial Household Law, which had no provisions for such a move.[28][29] On 8 August 2016, the Emperor gave a rare televised address, where he emphasized his advanced age and declining health;[30] this address was interpreted as an implication of his intention to abdicate.[31]

On 19 May 2017, the bill that would allow Akihito to abdicate was issued by the Japanese government's cabinet. On 8 June 2017, the National Diet passed a one-off bill allowing Akihito to abdicate, and for the government to begin arranging the process of handing over the position to Crown Prince Naruhito.[32] The Japanese government announced in December 2017 that Akihito would abdicate on 30 April 2019, and that Naruhito's reign would begin as of 1 May 2019.[1]

Ichthyological research

In extension of his father's interest in marine biology, the Emperor Emeritus is a published ichthyological researcher, and has specialized in studies within the taxonomy of the family Gobiidae.[33] He has written papers for scholarly journals such as Gene and the Japanese Journal of Ichthyology.[34] He has also written papers about the history of science during the Edo and Meiji eras, which were published in Science[35] and Nature.[36] In 2005, a newly described goby was named Exyrias akihito in his honour, and in 2007 a genus Akihito of gobies native to Pacific islands also received his name.

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Styles of
Imperial Seal of Japan.svg
Reference style His Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Sir

Titles and styles

  • 23 December 1933 – 10 November 1952: His Imperial Highness The Prince Tsugu
  • 10 November 1952 – 7 January 1989: His Imperial Highness The Crown Prince of Japan
  • 7 January 1989 – 30 April 2019: His Majesty The Emperor of Japan
  • 1 May 2019 – present: His Majesty The Emperor Emeritus (上皇陛下 Jōkō Heika)[37]


National honours

Foreign honours

Foreign honors
Country Awards
 Afghanistan 60px Order of the Supreme Sun
 Austria AUT Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria - 1st Class BAR.png Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria, Grand Star[38]
 Bahrain Wisam al-Khalifa 1st class.gif Order of al-Khalifa, Collar
 Belgium Grand Crest Ordre de Leopold.png Order of Leopold, Grand Cordon
 Botswana 60px Presidential Order
 Brazil BRA Order of the Southern Cross - Grand Cross BAR.png Order of the Southern Cross, Grand Collar
 Cambodia KHM Ordre Royal du Cambodge - Grand Croix BAR.png Royal Order of Cambodia, Grand Cross
 Cameroon 60px Order of Valour, Grand Cordon
 Chile CHL Order of Merit of Chile - Grand Cross BAR.png Order of the Merit of Chile, Grand Collar
 Colombia Order of Boyacá - Extraordinary Grand Cross (Colombia) - ribbon bar.png Order of Boyaca, Grand Collar
 Côte d'Ivoire 60px National Order of the Ivory Coast, Grand Cordon
 Czech Republic CZE Rad Bileho Lva 3 tridy BAR.svg Order of the White Lion, 1st Class (Civil Division) with Collar Chain
 Denmark Orderelefant ribbon.png Order of the Elephant (8 August 1953)[39]
 Egypt EGY Order of the Nile - Grand Cordon BAR.png Order of the Nile, Grand Collar
 Estonia EST Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana - 1st Class BAR.png Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, The Collar of the Cross[40]
 Ethiopia ETH Order of Solomon BAR.png Order of Solomon, Grand Collar
 Finland FIN Order of the White Rose Grand Cross BAR.png Order of the White Rose, Grand Cross with Collar
 France Legion Honneur GC ribbon.svg Légion d'honneur, Grand Cross
 The Gambia 60px Order of the Republic of the Gambia, Grand Commander
 Germany GER Bundesverdienstkreuz 9 Sond des Grosskreuzes.svg Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, Grand Cross, Special Class
 Greece GRE Order Redeemer 1Class.png Order of the Redeemer, Grand Cross
 Hungary 60px Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary, Grand Cross with Chain
 Iceland ISL Icelandic Order of the Falcon - Grand Cross BAR.png Order of the Falcon, Grand Cross with Collar
 Indonesia Bintang Republik Indonesia Adipurna Ribbon Bar.gif Star of Adipurna, 1st Class
 Ireland Decoration without ribbon - en.svg Freedom of the City of Dublin, awarded by Lord Mayor of Dublin
 Italy 60px Order of Merit of the Republic, Grand Cross with Cordon
 Jordan JOR Al-Hussein ibn Ali Order BAR.svg Order of al-Hussein bin Ali, Collar
 Kazakhstan 60px Order of the Golden Eagle
 Kenya Order of the Golden Heart of Kenya.svg Order of the Golden Heart
 Kuwait Order of Mubarak the Great (Kuwait) - ribbon bar.gif Order of Mubarak the Great, Collar
 Latvia LVA Order of the Three Stars - Grand Cross BAR.png Order of the Three Stars, Commander Grand Cross with Chain[41]
 Liberia Order of the Star of Africa (Liberia) - ribbon bar.png Order of the Star of Africa, Knight Grand Band
60px Order of the Pioneers of Liberia, Grand Cordon
 Lithuania LTU Order of Vytautas the Great with the Golden Chain BAR.png Order of Vytautas the Great, the Great Grand Cross with Collar[42]
 Luxembourg 60px Order of the Gold Lion of the House of Nassau, Knight
 Malawi 60px Order of the Lion, Grand Commander
 Malaysia MY Darjah Utama Seri Mahkota Negara (Crown of the Realm) - DMN.svg Honorary Recipient of the Order of the Crown of the Realm
 Mali 60px National Order of Mali, Grand Cordon
 Mexico MEX Order of the Aztec Eagle 1Class BAR.png Order of the Aztec Eagle, Grand Collar
 Morocco Decoration without ribbon - en.svg Order of Muhammad, Grand Collar
   Nepal Ord.Rajanya.Nepal-Ribbon.gif Order of Ojaswi Rajanya, Member (19 April 1960)[43]
King Birendra Investiture Medal 1975.png King Birendra Coronation Medal (24 February 1975)[44]
 Netherlands NLD Order of the Dutch Lion - Grand Cross BAR.png Order of the Netherlands Lion, Knight Grand Cross[45]
 Nigeria 60px Order of the Federal Republic, Grand Commander
 Norway Order Sint Olaf 1 kl.png Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav, Grand Cross with Collar[46]
 Oman 60px Order of Oman, Superior Class
 Pakistan Ord.Nishan-i-Pakistan.ribbon.gif Nishan-e-Pakistan, 1st Class
 Panama PAN Order of Manuel Amador Guerrero - Grand Cross BAR.png Order of Manuel Amador Guerrero, Gold Collar
 Peru PER Order of the Sun of Peru - Grand Cross BAR.png Order of the Sun, Grand Cross in Brilliants
 Philippines PHL Legion of Honor - Chief Commander BAR.png Philippine Legion of Honor, Chief Commander[47]
PHL Order of Sikatuna - Grand Cross BAR.png Order of Sikatuna, Rank of Raja[48]
PHL Order of Lakandula.png Order of Lakandula, Grand Collar
 Poland POL Order Orła Białego BAR.svg Order of the White Eagle
 Portugal PRT Order of Saint James of the Sword - Grand Cross BAR.png Order of Saint James of the Sword, Grand Collar (2 December 1993)
PRT Order of Prince Henry - Grand Cross BAR.png Order of Prince Henry, Grand Collar (12 May 1998)[49]
 Qatar Order of Independence (Qatar) - ribbon bar.gif Collar of Independence
 Saudi Arabia Decoration without ribbon - en.svg Badr Chain
 Senegal SEN Order of the Lion - Grand Cross BAR.png Order of the Lion, Collar
 South Africa Ord.GoodHope-ribbon.gif Order of Good Hope, Grand Cross in Gold (4 July 1995)[50]
 Spain Order of the Golden Fleece Rib.gif Order of the Golden Fleece, Knight[51]
ESP Charles III Order GC.svg Order of Charles III, Grand Cross
Order of Charles III - Sash of Collar.svg Order of Charles III, Collar
 Sweden Seraphimerorden ribbon.svg Royal Order of the Seraphim, Knight with Collar[52]
 Thailand 60px The Most Auspicious Order of the Rajamitrabhorn
60px The Most Illustrious Order of the Royal House of Chakri
60px Commemorative Medal on the Occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Accession to the Throne of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej
 Ukraine 60px Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, First Class
 United Arab Emirates 60px Collar of the Federation
 United Kingdom Order of the Garter UK ribbon.png Stranger Knight of Order of the Garter (985th member; 1998)
Royal Victorian Order Honorary Ribbon.png Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (1953)
UK Queen EII Coronation Medal ribbon.svg Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (2 June 1953)
 FR Yugoslavia* Order of the Yugoslavian Great Star Rib.png Order of the Yugoslav Star
 Zaire* 60px National Order of the Leopard, Grand Cordon
Other awards

Foreign Arms

Overseas visits

The following table includes the official visits made by Emperor Akihito, along with Empress Michiko, following succession to the throne on 7 January 1989.[54][55][56] The list includes all the visits made up to 31 December 2017. Although Empress Michiko has made two official visits on her own, in 2002 (to Switzerland) and 2014 (to Belgium), they did not include the Emperor and are not included in this table.

Overseas visits
Serial no. Date (Year) Country Purpose
1 26 September – 6 October (1991)  Thailand,  Malaysia,  Indonesia "To foster friendly relations at the invitation of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia"
2 23–28 October (1992)  China "To foster friendly relations at the invitation of China"
3 6–9 August (1993)  Belgium "To attend the funeral ceremony of King Baudouin of Belgium"
4 3–19 September (1993)  Italy,  Belgium,  Germany "To foster friendly relations at the invitation of Italy, Belgium and Germany (Visit to the   Vatican City)"
5 10–26 June (1994)  United States "To foster friendly relations at the invitation of the United States"
6 2–14 October (1994)  France,  Spain "To foster friendly relations at the invitation of France and Spain"
7 30 May – 13 June (1997)  Brazil,  Argentina "To foster friendly relations at the invitation of Brazil and Argentina"
8 23 May – 5 June (1998)  United Kingdom,  Denmark "To foster friendly relations at the invitation of the United Kingdom and Denmark"
9 20 May – 1 June (2000)  Netherlands,  Sweden "To foster friendly relations at the invitation of the Netherlands and Sweden"
10 6–20 July (2002)  Czech Republic,  Poland,  Hungary "To foster friendly relations at the invitation of Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary"
11 7 – 14 May (2005)  Norway "To foster friendly relations at the invitation of Norway"
12 27–28 June (2005)  United States "To pay tribute to those who died in the war and to pray for world peace in the 60th year after the end of the war"
13 8–15 June (2006)  Singapore,  Thailand "To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations at the invitation of Singapore and to attend celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the accession to the throne of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand"
14 21 – 30 May (2007)  Sweden,  Estonia,  Latvia,  Lithuania,  United Kingdom "To mark presence as a honorary member of the Linnean Society on the 300th birth anniversary of Carl von Linné at the invitation of Sweden and the United Kingdom and to foster friendly relations at the invitation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania"
15 3–17 July (2009)  Canada,  United States "To foster friendly relations at the invitation of Canada, and to celebrate the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation (Visit to Hawaii)"
16 16 – 20 May (2012)  United Kingdom "To attend a luncheon in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth II"
17 30 November – 6 December (2013)  India "To foster friendly relations at the invitation of India"
18 8–9 April (2015)  Palau "To pay tribute to those who died in the war and to foster international goodwill in the 70th year after the end of the war"
19 26–30 January (2016)  Philippines "To foster friendly relations on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations at the invitation of the Philippines"
20 28 February – 6 March (2017)  Vietnam "To foster friendly relations at the invitation of Vietnam"
The Emperor and Empress with their family in November 2013


The Emperor emeritus Akihito and the Empress emerita have three children, two sons and a daughter as their parents.

Name Birth Marriage Issue
Imperial Prince Hiro-no-Miya Naruhito (later 126th Emperor Naruhito of Japan) 23 February 1960 9 June 1993 Masako Owada Aiko, Princess Toshi
Imperial Prince Aya-no-Miya Fumihito (later Crown Prince Fumihito of Japan) 30 November 1965 29 June 1990 Kiko Kawashima Princess Mako
Princess Kako
Prince Hisahito
Imperial Princess Nori-no-Miya Sayako (later become Commoner Kuroda Sayako) 18 April 1969 15 November 2005 Kuroda Yoshiki (b.1965)


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Patrilineal descent

See also


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External links

Born: 23 December 1933
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor of Japan
7 January 1989 – 30 April 2019
Succeeded by
Japanese royalty
Preceded by
Crown Prince of Japan
Succeeded by