Emperor Status


The status of the emperor is a major point of contention related to constitutional revision. Article 1 of the Constitution states, “The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power.” The biggest issue is whether or not the Constitution stipulates that the Emperor is the head of state. In other words, is the emperor an organ of the state who can represent the nation abroad? Opinions are divided over whether the Constitution contains a clear stipulation that the Emperor is the head of state. In addition to the various theories that the head of the state is either the emperor, the cabinet, or the prime minister, another theory holds that Japan does not have a head of state (genshu fuzaisetsu). The reason why there are various views of the head of state is due to the changing definition of “head of state” (genshu) throughout Japanese history. “Head of state” originally meant an omnipotent ruler who carried all the functions of governing in a monarchical system. As political systems became more diverse, the definition of “head of state” became less rigid. Today, the “head of state” of a monarchical system is a monarch, and the head of state in a republic is a president, but the regulations regarding the head of state and the name of the corresponding position differs by country. In an absolute monarchy or despotic monarchy, the monarch exercises all functions of governing, but in a constitutional monarchy, even if the monarch is the head of state, his or her authority is still limited by the constitution. Also, even though the head of state is, strictly speaking, an independent organ composed of one person, the cabinet is an advisory body composed of several members and is involved in decision-making. Because Japan’s symbolic emperor is prohibited from having powers related to the government, he does not have the power to conclude treaties or exercise diplomatic powers. However, some perceive the emperor as the head of state because he is the ceremonial representative of the nation. There is still no consensus on whether Japan should be viewed as a constitutional monarchy because there are opposing opinions related to whether the emperor is the head of state.

According to the provisions in of the Meiji Constitution (the Constitution of the Empire of Japan), the emperor is the head of state (kuni no genshu) and has the rights of sovereignty of the state (Article 4) and the supreme command of the Army and Navy (Article 11). The Meiji Constitution also states that the emperor’s existence is “sacred and inviolable” (Article 3).The emperor’s sacredness and inviolability, along with the emperor’s sovereign immunity (mutōseki), all became the legal basis for lese majesty (fukeizai), which punished actions that harm the emperor’s dignity. The doctrine of sovereign immunity became a key point during the debate over the emperor’s war responsibility. After Japan’s defeat, the Shōwa Emperor renounced his divinity in an imperial rescript (also known as the “declaration of humanity”) in January 1946. The postwar Constitution stipulated that the emperor was a symbol of the state. Although a considerable number of proposed revisions to the Constitution contain provisions that make the emperor the head of state, there are really no objections to maintaining the symbolic emperor system, including from the right wing. The LDP’s 2012 revised draft of the Constitution makes the emperor the head of state and affirms the emperor’s position as the symbolic head of state. In addition, the Sunrise Party of Japan's “Outline of An Independent Draft of the Constitution,”  “A Draft of the Heisei Constitution] by Nishi Osamu's seminar at Komazawa University,  PHP Institute's "Private Draft of the Constitution of Japan” (edited by Eguchi Katsuhiko and Nagahisa Toshio) all regard the emperor as the symbolic head of state. The BLOGOS ✕ Genron Draft of the New Constitution contains a provision that makes a distinction between the emperor as the “symbolic head of state” and the prime minister as the “head of the government.”