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Akihito (明仁, Japanese: [akiçi̥to], English: /ˌækiˈht/ (About this soundlisten) 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. 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 eldest son, Naruhito.

Emperor Akihito cropped 2 Barack Obama and Emperor Akihito 20140424.jpg
The Emperor in 2014
Emperor of Japan
Reign7 January 1989 – 30 April 2019
Enthronement12 November 1990
Prime MinistersSee list
BornAkihito (明仁)
(1933-12-23) 23 December 1933 (age 85)
Tokyo Imperial Palace, Tokyo City, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan
Michiko Shōda (m. 1959)
Era name and dates
Heisei: 8 January 1989 – 30 April 2019
HouseImperial House of Japan
FatherEmperor Shōwa
MotherEmpress Kōjun
SignatureHeisei shomei.svg



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][failed verification] 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 workEdit

Empress Nagako with her first son, Prince Akihito, in 1934

Akihito was born on 23 December 1933 in the Tokyo Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan as the eldest son of the Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) and Empress Kōjun (Nagako). 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, 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.[6]

The newly married Crown Prince and Crown Princess 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] 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.

On 23 December 2001, during his annual birthday meeting with reporters, the Emperor, in response to a reporter's question about tensions with 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 familyEdit

Then-Crown Prince Akihito on his wedding day, 10 April 1959
1987 (Showa 62), the last foreign visit as the crown prince (America)
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][failed verification]

Official functionsEdit

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, 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 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, Nagasaki and Okinawa 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 researchEdit

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 armsEdit

Titles and stylesEdit

  • 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 honoursEdit

Foreign honoursEdit

Foreign honors
Country Awards
  Afghanistan   Order of the Supreme Sun
  Austria   Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria, Grand Star [38]
  Bahrain   Order of al-Khalifa, Collar
  Belgium   Order of Leopold, Grand Cordon
  Botswana   Presidential Order
  Brazil   Order of the Southern Cross, Grand Collar
  Cambodia   Royal Order of Cambodia, Grand Cross
  Cameroon   Order of Valour, Grand Cordon
  Chile   Order of the Merit of Chile, Grand Collar
  Colombia   Order of Boyaca, Grand Collar
  Côte d'Ivoire   National Order of the Ivory Coast, Grand Cordon
  Czech Republic   Order of the White Lion, 1st Class (Civil Division) with Collar Chain
  Denmark   Order of the Elephant (8 August 1953)[39]
  Egypt   Order of the Nile, Grand Collar
  Estonia   Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, The Collar of the Cross[40]
  Ethiopia   Order of Solomon, Grand Collar
  Finland   Order of the White Rose, Grand Cross with Collar
  France   Légion d'honneur, Grand Cross
  The Gambia   Order of the Republic of the Gambia, Grand Commander
  Germany   Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, Grand Cross, Special Class
  Greece   Order of the Redeemer, Grand Cross
  Hungary   Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary, Grand Cross with Chain
  Iceland   Order of the Falcon, Grand Cross with Collar
  Indonesia   Star of Adipurna, 1st Class
  Ireland   Freedom of the City of Dublin, awarded by Lord Mayor of Dublin
  Italy   Order of Merit of the Republic, Grand Cross with Cordon
  Jordan   Order of al-Hussein bin Ali, Collar
  Kazakhstan   Order of the Golden Eagle
  Kenya   Order of the Golden Heart
  Kuwait   Order of Mubarak the Great, Collar
  Latvia   Order of the Three Stars, Commander Grand Cross with Chain[41]
  Liberia   Order of the Star of Africa, Knight Grand Band
  Order of the Pioneers of Liberia, Grand Cordon
  Lithuania   Order of Vytautas the Great, the Great Grand Cross with Collar[42]
  Luxembourg   Order of the Gold Lion of the House of Nassau, Knight
  Malawi   Order of the Lion, Grand Commander
  Malaysia   Honorary Recipient of the Order of the Crown of the Realm
  Mali   National Order of Mali, Grand Cordon
  Mexico   Order of the Aztec Eagle, Grand Collar
  Morocco   Order of Muhammad, Grand Collar
    Nepal   Order of Ojaswi Rajanya, Member (19 April 1960)[43]
  King Birendra Coronation Medal (24 February 1975)[44]
  Netherlands   Order of the Netherlands Lion, Knight Grand Cross[45]
  Nigeria   Order of the Federal Republic, Grand Commander
  Norway   Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav, Grand Cross with Collar[46]
  Oman   Order of Oman, Superior Class
  Pakistan   Nishan-e-Pakistan, 1st Class
  Panama   Order of Manuel Amador Guerrero, Gold Collar
  Peru   Order of the Sun, Grand Cross in Brilliants
  Philippines   Philippine Legion of Honor, Chief Commander[47]
  Order of Sikatuna, Rank of Raja[48]
  Order of Lakandula, Grand Collar
  Poland   Order of the White Eagle
  Portugal   Order of Saint James of the Sword, Grand Collar (2 December 1993)
  Order of Prince Henry, Grand Collar (12 May 1998)[49]
  Qatar   Collar of Independence
  Saudi Arabia   Badr Chain
  Senegal   Order of the Lion, Collar
  South Africa   Order of Good Hope, Grand Cross in Gold (4 July 1995)[50]
  Spain   Order of the Golden Fleece, Knight[51]
  Order of Charles III, Grand Cross
  Order of Charles III, Collar
  Sweden   Royal Order of the Seraphim, Knight with Collar[52]
  Thailand   The Most Auspicious Order of the Rajamitrabhorn
  The Most Illustrious Order of the Royal House of Chakri
  Commemorative Medal on the Occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Accession to the Throne of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej
  Ukraine   Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, First Class
  United Arab Emirates   Collar of the Federation
  United Kingdom   Stranger Knight of Order of the Garter (985th member; 1998)
  Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (1953)
  Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (2 June 1953)
  FR Yugoslavia*   Order of the Yugoslav Star
  Zaire*   National Order of the Leopard, Grand Cordon
Other awards


Overseas visitsEdit

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 May – 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 May – 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 May – 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


Name Birth Marriage Issue
Imperial Prince Hiro-no-Miya Naruhito (later 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)


Patrilineal descentEdit

See alsoEdit


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  43. ^
  44. ^ Embassy of Japan in Nepal
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  54. ^ "List of Overseas visits by the Emperor and Empress (1989–1998)". The Imperial Household Agency. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
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External linksEdit

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