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Japanese Royalty

Japan's current emperor, Naruhito, was born in 1960. He became emperor after the abdication of his father, Akihito, in 2019. Emperor Naruhito and his wife, Empress Masako, have one child, Princess Aiko, whose official title is Princess Toshi. She was born in 2001.

Under current Japanese law, Princess Aiko cannot become monarch because she is not male. The current heir to the throne is Emperor Naruhito's brother, Prince Akishino. He has two daughters and one son, Prince Hisahito, who was born in 2006.

Emperor Akihito & Empress Michiko

emperor and empress

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Books About Japan's Imperial Family

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Book Categories: Books by Imperial Family, Imperial History, Modern Imperial Family, Meiji, Hirohito, Japan, Palaces, Fiction, DVDs, Children's Books

Books By Members of the Japanese Imperial Family

The Thames and I: A Memoir of Two Years at Oxford by Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan, translated by Hugh Cortazzi. An account of English university life, customs and mores as seen from the perspective of the future emperor.

Tomoshibi Light: Collected Poetry by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. Published in 1991, this book collects 166 poems by Japan's former emperor and 140 by the empress. Some were written for the imperial family's annual New Year's Poetry Reading, and others mark special events in the Japanese calendar. Translated and annotated.

Lulie the Iceberg by Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado, illustrated by Warabe Aska. This children's picture book, written by the wife of a cousin of Emperor Akihito, tells the story of an iceberg who travels from the North Pole to the South Pole. For ages 4 to 8.

Prince and Princess Chichibu: Two Lives Lived Above and Below the Clouds by Princess Chichibu of Japan, translated by Dorothy Bouchier. Autobiography of the wife of Emperor Hirohito's brother, originally published in 1996 as "The Silver Drum." This edition contains expanded chapters about the princess's early life.

Imperial History

The Chrysanthemum Throne: A History of the Emperors of Japan by Peter Martin. The Japanese imperial dynasty can be traced back some 1,600 years, making it the world's oldest hereditary monarchy. This first general study of the institution throughout its history includes material previously available only in Japanese.

Enigma of the Emperors: Sacred Subservience in Japanese History by Ben-Ami Shillony. A study of the Japanese emperors from their mythological beginnings up to the present day, focusing on the notions of divinity, gender and subservience or passivity.

A Chronicle of Gods and Sovereigns by Chikafusa Kitabatake. History of Japan's emperors before 1333. Written in the 14th century.

Emperor of Japan by Eiji Ina. Photographs of the misasagi, or burial mounds, of all 124 Japanese emperors since the Kofun period, reaching back some 1,600 years.

Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600-1945: The Age of the Gods and Emperor Jimmu by John S. Brownlee.

Critical Readings on the Emperors of Japan edited by Ben-Ami Shillony. Despite their political and military weakness, the emperors of Japan enjoyed a sacred status and could not be overthrown. This four-volume publication presents articles on emperors from the ancient past until modern times.

Ancient Japan

The World of the Shining Prince by Ivan Morris, edited by Paul De Angelis. Court life in ancient Japan.

Imperial Politics and Symbolics in Ancient Japan: The Tenmu Dynasty, 650-800 by Herman Ooms. The Tenmu dynasty began and ended in bloodshed. Its years in power were marked by succession struggles, murders, and accusations of black magic.

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon: The Diary of a Courtesan in Tenth Century Japan translated by Arthur Waley. This diary of a young courtesan of the Heian period chronicles court ceremonies and celebrations at the palace of Empress Teishi, providing glimpses of the manners and foibles of the aristocracy.

Diary of Lady Murasaki by Murasaki Shikibu, edited by Richard Bowring. The author, a lady of the Japanese court, kept this diary between 1007 and 1010. Spiced with sharp sketches of a timid empress, spineless courtiers, and quarrelsome ladies-in-waiting, it reveals the underside of imperial splendor.

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. Celebrated as the world's first novel, this book (written by the author of The Diary of Lady Murasaki) tells the epic story of an emperor's son and offers a lively glimpse of 11th century Japan.

Medieval Japan

The Clear Mirror, edited by George W. Perkins. A chronicle of the Japanese court during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), written by an anonymous court noble in the 14th century.

Emperor and Aristocracy in Japan, 1467-1680: Resilience and Renewal by Lee Butler. Traces the fate of the imperial court from the lowest point in the turbulent sengoku period to its more stable position in the Tokugawa period.

Edo Period

The Princess Nun: Bunchi, Buddhist Reform, and Gender in Early Edo Japan by Gina Cogan. Tells the story of Bunchi (1619-1697), a Buddhist nun who was the daughter of Emperor Go-Mizunoo, showing how her aristocratic status enabled her to carry out reforms despite her gender.

Modern Emperors & Their Relatives

The Emperors of Modern Japan edited by Ben-Ami Shillony. Essays look at recent emperors -- Meiji (Mutsuhito), Taish (Yoshihito), Shwa (Hirohito), and the present emperor, Akihito -- both as personalities, and as a constantly developing institution. Topics include the role of the emperors and their wives, Hirohito's war responsibility, and succession rules.

The Yamato Dynasty: The Secret History of Japan's Imperial Family by Sterling Seagrave and Peggy Seagrave. An unflattering look at the imperial family in the 20th century.

Imperial Biologists: The Imperial Family of Japan and Their Contributions to Biological Research by Hideo Mohri and Yoko Kawazoe. Japan's Emperor Hirohito was an expert on hydrozoans and slime molds. Emperor Akihito is a respected ichthyologist. Prince Hitachi is an expert in comparative oncology.

Emperors of the Rising Sun by Stephen S. Large. Biographies of three recent emperors: Meiji, Taisho, and Showa (Hirohito).

The Age of Emperor Akihito: Historical Controversies Over the Past and the Future edited by Takeshi Suzuki. An investigation of the role of Japan's emperor as a national symbol.

Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne by Ben Hills. Biography of the wife of Japan's Emperor Naruhito. The author interviewed the royal couple's friends, teachers, and former colleagues, many of whom have never spoken publicly before.

The Emperor's Adviser: Saionji Kinmochi and Pre-War Japanese Politics by Lesley Connors. Saionji Kinmochi was an aristocrat who served as Prime Minister of Japan twice during the 20th century and was adviser to three emperors.

Traces: Memories of H.I.H. Prince Takamado, Plus Memorial Essays From Around the World by Stephen Comee. Prince Takamado, who died in 2002, was a cousin of Japan's Emperor Akihito.

British Royal and Imperial Relations, 1868-2018: 150 Years of Association, Engagement and Celebration by Peter Kornicki, Antony Best, and Hugh Cortazzi. The history of relations between the British and Japanese monarchies over 150 years.

Japanese Monarchy

Japan's Imperial House in the Postwar Era, 1945-2019 by Kenneth J. Ruoff. An expanded and updated study of the monarchy's role in contemporary Japan. (Previously published as The People's Emperor.)

The Splendid Monarchy by T. Fujitani explores the power and pageantry of the modern imperial family.

Learning the Sacred Way of the Emperor: The National Ideals of the Japanese People by Yukata Hibino, translated by A. P. McKenzie. About the conceptions and ideals of the Japanese people in the early part of the 20th century. Includes chapters on the duties of an imperial subject, the basis of the imperial state, national institutions, and the imperial destiny.

The Japanese Enthronement Ceremonies: With an Account of the Imperial Regalia by Daniel Clarence Holtom.

Emperor Meiji

Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-19 by Donald Keene. A rich portrait of Meiji and the rapid, sometimes violent change during this pivotal period in Japan's history.

The Meiji Restoration: Monarchism, Mass Communication and Conservative Revolution by Alistair Swale. Account of how real imperial rule was restored in Japan in 1867 under Emperor Meiji.

Gendered Power: Educated Women of the Meiji Empress' Court by Mamiko C. Suzuki. Focuses on the role Chinese classics (kanbun) played in the language employed by elite women, including Empress Haruko.

Emperor Hirohito

Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix argues that contrary to popular belief, Hirohito was no mere figurehead but played an active part in governing Japan during World War II. This book won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.

Emperor Hirohito and Showa Japan by Stephen Large. This political biography of Hirohito shows how the emperor's character and personal influence were crucial in preserving a significant monarchy.

Hirohito: The Showa Emperor in War and Peace by Hata Ikuhiko. The author is regarded as a leading historian of contemporary Japan.

Showa, edited by Carol Gluck and Stephen Graubard. Explores the Japan of Hirohito.

Gold Warriors: America's Secret Recovery of Yamashita's Gold by Sterling Seagrave and Peggy Seagrave. Looks at the role played by the Japanese imperial family during World War Two.

Second World War

Emperor Hirohito and the Pacific War by Noriko Kawamura. Traces Hirohito's actions from the late 1920s to the end of the Second World War. He was by no means a pacifist, but neither did he favor reckless wars.

Hirohito and War by Peter Wetzler is about imperial tradition and military decision making in prewar Japan.

Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire by Richard B. Frank. The disintegration of the Japanese Empire was one of the most dramatic episodes of World War II.

The Rhetoric of Emperor Hirohito by Takeshi Suzuki. Investigates the wartime role of Japanese emperor Hirohito and changes to the Emperor System.

War and Responsibility in Japan: The Role of the Emperor and the War Occupation Debates by Kiyohiko Toyama. A reappraisal of the emperor's responsibility for Japan's conduct during WWII.

In the Service of the Emperor: Essays on the Imperial Japanese Army by Edward J. Drea. Looks at the imperial army during the Second World War.

Emperor Akihito

Return to Japan by Elizabeth Gray Vining. Written by a former tutor to Crown Prince Akihito, who shares her observations of great political and social changes in Japan.

Japanese History & Constitution

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Japan, edited by Richard John Bowring and Peter Kornicki. One-volume reference book about Japanese history.

The Cambridge History of Japan: Volume 1 edited by Delmer M. Brown, deals with the history of ancient Japan. The other books in the series are The Cambridge History of Japan: Volume 2, about the Heian period (794 to 1185); Volume 3, Medieval Japan, edited by Kozo Yamamura; Volume 4, Early Modern Japan by John W. Hall; Volume 5, The Nineteenth Century, edited by Marius B. Jansen; and Volume 6, The Twentieth Century, edited by Peter Duus.

Japan: A Concise History by Milton W. Meyer. Authoritative overview of 2,000 years of Japanese history. Approximately half of the text deals with pre-Meiji Japan, the period before 1868. The second half covers events since 1868.

The Samurai Capture a King - Okinawa 1609 by Stephen Turnbull. The Shimazu clan raid on the kingdom of Rykkyu (modern Okinawa, Japan) in 1609 is one of the most extraordinary episodes in samurai history. This is a blow-by-blow account of the operation, including the spectacular kidnapping of the king of Rykkyu. Includes specially commissioned artwork.

The Constitution of Japan by Shigenori Matsui. Explains the current constitution, including the emperor's role, as well as the constitutional history of Japan.

A History of Japan to 1334 by George B. Sansom. The first volume of a classic reference work about Japanese history. The other volumes are A History of Japan, 1334-1615 and A History of Japan, 1615-1867.


The Commoner: A Novel by John Burnham Schwartz. In 1959, a woman named Haruko marries the Crown Prince of Japan. The consequences are tragic and dramatic.

Children's Books

Princess Kiko of Japan by Tim O'Shei. Biography for children ages 9 to 12.

Kazunomiya: Prisoner of Heaven, Japan 1858 by Kathryn Lasky. Fiction from the Royal Diaries series. For children ages 9 to 12.

Himeji Castle: Japan's Samurai Past by Jacqueline A. Ball and Stephen Brown. For children ages 9 to 12.


These DVDs are formatted for North American audiences.

Hirohito. Dramatic archival footage highlights this TV documentary about the Japanese emperor whose long reign marked the transformation of his nation from an ancient society to a modern powerhouse.

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