The World’s Oldest Monarchy

There are currently fewer than 45 monarchies left in the world, the majority of which primarily serve ceremonial purposes rather than exercising actual power. Japan is one of the countries where the monarchy retains complete control.

This continued hereditary monarchy is thought to have been established in 660 BC, making the Imperial House of Japan the world’s oldest monarchy. It was first ruled by Jimmu, the first emperor, who is said to have mythical origins.

To date, Japan has been ruled by over 125 monarchies, only a few of which are immortalized in written records. In the ancient line of monarchs, some of the most influential titles that greatly influenced Japanese culture include:

Emperor Jimmu

The World's Oldest Monarchy | Emperor Jimmu
Woodblock print depicting legendary first emperor Jimmu, who saw a sacred bird flying away while he was in the expedition of the eastern section of Japan. | Image: Ginko Adachi (active 1874-1897), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A few facts about Jimmu have been extracted from the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest extant chronicle. Jimmu was born on February 13, 711 BC as Kamu Yamato Iwarebiko No Mikoto. Jimmu is thought to be a descendant of Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun and the universe. He was also distantly related to Susanoo, the storm and sea god.
The length of Jimmu’s reign has always been debated, but it is generally assumed to be 126 years, from 11th February 660 BC to his death on 9th April 585 BC.

According to legend, Jimmu and his brothers were born in Takachiho and decided to travel east through the Seto Inland Sea. The movement arose from their desire for power, as they intended to rule the country. According to the records, they were defeated in battle when they arrived in Isaka and lost their oldest brother.
When Jimmu realized they were defeated, he landed on the east side of Kil Peninsula and battled his way west. Jimmu and his remaining brothers fought until the battle was won. Jimmu was then crowned and built a palace in Kashihara, Nara.

Emperor Tenmu

The World's Oldest Monarchy | Emperor Tenmu
Emperor Tenmu | Image: Published by 国書刊行会(Kokusho Kankōkai), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tenmu was the 40th Japanese Emperor. He was the youngest son of Emperor Jomei and was not expected to succeed his father as Emperor. Tenmu’s brother, on the other hand, was unable to produce male offspring for the majority of his reign, granting the Imperial Prince the title of Emperor.

During Japan’s Asoka period, Emperor Tenmu reigned from 673 to 686. The emperor was well-known for his unique relationships with Nara and his contributions to the construction of Japan’s capital. During his reign, he popularized his favourite pastime game sogu-Roku, a dice game similar to backgammon. When his successor, Empress Jito (his wife), took the throne, the pastime was outlawed. Nonetheless, even after his death, placing bets on games had become popular among the people of Heiankyo, the capital.

Much of Tenmu’s accomplishments remain a mystery because they frequently sparked controversy. However, some of the information about him was passed down through texts. Most of his described roles profoundly influenced Japanese culture. His record-breaking achievements include promoting institutionalized religion and constructing the new Buddhist temple. He is also credited with the invention of household butsudan and the spread of Imperial influence throughout the Japanese archipelago.

Emperor Akihito

The World's Oldest Monarchy | Emperor Akihito
Emperor Akihito in 2016 | Image: Malacañang Photo Bureau, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

On December 1, 2017, the Japanese government announced the abdication of Nahurito’s father, Emperor Akihito. Following the abdication ceremony, Naruhito became the current Emperor of Japan. The power transition occurred at midnight, and Naruhito formally began his reign.

Article 4 of the constitution defines Naruhito’s role in modern Japan. The majority of his responsibilities are described as ceremonial and representative and is prohibited from making political statements. The constitution also prohibits him from binding the cabinet’s advice. This means that, even if he appoints the prime minister, he must do so through the National Diet or legislature’s selection.

Outside of leadership, Naruhito is interested in water policy and conservation. During his travels around the world, he also gives keynote speeches. Nahurito delivered a speech at the forum’s event opening in 2003, honouring the Third World Water Forum president. He also delivered the keynote address at the Fourth World Water Forum’s opening ceremony. Other interests include playing the viola, which he discovered after learning to play the violin at an early age. He also loves music, running, hiking, and mountaineering.


The current wealth of the Japanese Royal Family is extremely small when compared to other royal houses throughout the world. But the Japanese people have very high regard for the Royal Family in their society. The Royal Family is a highly respected and important symbol of Japanese culture and identity.

Feature Image: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan

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