The Emperor of Japan is the head of the Imperial Family and is the ceremonial head of state of Japan's system of constitutional monarchy. According to the 1947 constitution, he is "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people." Historically, he is also the highest authority of the Shinto religion as he and his family are said to be the direct descendants of the sun-goddess Amaterasu,〔(役員、総代としての基礎知識 全国神社総代会編集発行「改訂神社役員、総代必携」 )〕 and his importance also lies in dealing with heavenly affairs, including Shinto ritual and rites throughout the nation.
In Japanese, the Emperor is called ''Tennō'' (天皇), which means "heavenly sovereign". In English, the use of the term ''Mikado'' (帝) for the Emperor was once common, but is now considered obsolete.〔
Currently, the Emperor of Japan is the only remaining monarch in the world reigning under the title of "Emperor". The Imperial House of Japan is the oldest continuing hereditary monarchy in the world. In Kojiki or Nihon Shoki, a book of Japanese history finished in the eighth century, it is said that Japan was founded in 660 BC by Emperor Jimmu. The current Emperor is Akihito, who has been on the Chrysanthemum Throne since he was enthroned after his father, the Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito), died in 1989.
The role of the Emperor of Japan has historically alternated between a largely ceremonial symbolic role and that of an actual imperial ruler. Since the establishment of the first shogunate in 1192, the Emperors of Japan have rarely taken on a role as supreme battlefield commander, unlike many Western monarchs. Japanese Emperors have nearly always been controlled by external political forces, to varying degrees. In fact, from 1192 to 1867, the shoguns, or their ''shikken'' regents in Kamakura (1203–1333), were the ''de facto'' rulers of Japan, although they were nominally appointed by the Emperor. After the Meiji restoration in 1867, the Emperor was the embodiment of all sovereign power in the realm, as enshrined in the Meiji Constitution of 1889. His current status as a figurehead dates from the 1947 Constitution.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, the Imperial Palace has been called ''Kyūjō'' (宮城), then ''Kōkyo'' (皇居), and is located on the former site of Edo Castle in the heart of Tokyo. Earlier, Emperors resided in Kyoto for nearly eleven centuries.
The Emperor's Birthday (currently celebrated on December 23) is a national holiday.
Unlike most constitutional monarchies, the Emperor is not the ''nominal'' Chief Executive. Article 65 of the Constitution explicitly vests executive power in the Cabinet, of which the Prime Minister is the leader. The Emperor is also not the (ceremonial) commander-in-chief of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. The Japan Self-Defense Forces Act of 1954 also explicitly vests this role with the Prime Minister.
The Emperor's powers are limited only to important ceremonial functions. Article 4 of the Constitution states that the Emperor "shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in the Constitution and he shall not have powers related to government." It also stipulates that "the advice and approval of the Cabinet shall be required for all acts of the Emperor in matters of state" (article 3). Article 4 also states that these duties can be delegated by the Emperor as provided for by law.
While the Emperor formally appoints the Prime Minister to office, article 6 of the Constitution requires him to appoint the candidate "as designated by the Diet", without any right to decline appointment.
Article 6 of the Constitution delegates the Emperor the following ceremonial roles:
#Appointment of the Prime Minister as designated by the Diet.
#Appointment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as designated by the Cabinet.
The Emperor's other duties are laid down in article 7 of the Constitution, where it is stated that the "Emperor with the advice and approval of the Cabinet, shall perform the following acts in matters of state on behalf of the people":
#Promulgation of amendments of the constitution, laws, cabinet orders, and treaties.
#Convocation of the Diet.
#Dissolution of the House of Representatives.
#Proclamation of general election of members of the Diet.
#Attestation of the appointment and dismissal of Ministers of State and other officials as provided for by law, and of full powers and credentials of Ambassadors and Ministers.
#Attestation of general and special amnesty, commutation of punishment, reprieve, and restoration of rights.
#Awarding of honors.
#Attestation of instruments of ratification and other diplomatic documents as provided for by law.
#Receiving foreign ambassadors and ministers.
#Performance of ceremonial functions.
Regular ceremonies of the Emperor with a constitutional basis are the Imperial Investitures ''(Shinninshiki)'' in the Tokyo Imperial Palace and the Speech from the Throne ceremony in the House of Councillors in the National Diet Building. The latter ceremony opens ordinary and extra sessions of the Diet. Ordinary sessions are opened this way each January and also after new elections to the House of Representatives. Extra sessions usually convene in the autumn and are opened then.〔(The formal investiture of the Prime Minister in 2010 ), (the opening of the ordinary session of the Diet in January 2012 ) and (the opening of an extra session of the Diet in the autumn of 2011. ) The 120th anniversary of the Diet was commemorarated with (a special ceremony ) in the House of Councillors in November 2010, when also the Empress and the prince and princess Akishino were present.〕
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