What is an Empress? The definition of Empress in the Imperial Household Law, differences from the current Empress Masako and Princess, differences from the Empress Dowager, and differences from the Chuugu are also explained in detail.

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TOKYO, JAPAN – JULY 03: Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako attend the send-off event for the Japanese national team for the Rio 2016 Olympics at Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako attend the send-off event for the Japanese national team for the Rio 2016 Olympics at Yoyogi National Gymnasium on July 3, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

Not many people in Japan may actually know much about the empress who is now Masako.

Knowing more about the Empress will help you better understand information about the Imperial Family. Let’s deepen your knowledge and enjoy the information about the Japanese Imperial Family and the royal family in the world.

 In this article, we would like to explain the Empress in detail

Who is the Empress?

Empress is a title given to the wife ( full wife) of the emperor (or king/emperor ), sometimes also called queen consort.

Although there are slight differences from country to country, basically the empress is expected to perform her official duties and support the emperor.

In many cases, the official duties are primarily diplomatic, and in modern times, political authority is generally not strong.

Empresses in Japan, for example, are characterized by honorary positions and traditional sericulture.

In modern times, there has also been a trend to actively take opportunities to visit rural areas with the emperor and meet the people.

Etymology of Empress 

The origin of the word empress in Japan can be traced back to the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) and Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan). In the Kojiki, the empress was called kisaki (后) at that time, but the kanji for empress has been used since the Chronicles of Japan.

It was not until after the enactment of the Taiho Ritsuryo Code that the title of Empress was clearly stipulated.

Therefore, strictly speaking, the first empress in Japan was the wife of Emperor Shomu (Empress Komyo). In terms of date, this was in the first year of Tempyo (729).

However, since empress was already used in the Nihon Shoki, it is common to refer to her as empress even before Empress Koumyou.

History of the Empress 

The history of the empress reflects a variety of cultural and political backgrounds from ancient times to the present.

In Japan, the decision on the empress is called rikugo, which requires a decision by the Imperial Council.

Also, until before the Meiji era, only girls of the imperial family were allowed to become empresses. However, exceptions were made, such as when Emperor Shomu made his vassal Fujiwara no Fuhito’s daughter, Komyoji, empress.

The honorific title remained “His Highness” until the Meiji era (1868-1912), and like the emperor, the terms “korogyo” and “sangyo” were used.

At one time, there were cases where two empresses were retained at the same time, and they were sometimes called “chugu” to distinguish them, but in modern times, the number of empresses has been reduced to one, so they are unified as empresses.

In modern times, it is also possible for ordinary people to join the Imperial Family, as is the case with the current Empress Masako-sama and the current Empress Michiko, who is the Senior Empress. The honorific title is “His Majesty,” but “sama” is generally added.

Definition of Empress in the Imperial Household Law 

In the Imperial Household Law, which defines the Imperial Household System, the Empress is described as the most senior member of the Imperial Family. This means that the Empress is the second most important member of the Imperial Family after the Emperor.

However, since only male members of the imperial family can succeed to the throne in Japan, the empress does not succeed to the throne.

Like the emperor, the empress is addressed by the title “陛下” (Majesty). The place of burial is not a tomb but a “mausoleum,” which distinguishes the Empress from other members of the Imperial Family.

In addition, the Empress’s unique provision stipulates that a civilian woman can only become a member of the Imperial Family if she marries a male member of the Imperial Family.

On the other hand, if a woman of the Imperial Family marries a civilian man, the woman is removed from the Imperial Family and the civilian man cannot become a member of the Imperial Family.

The current Empress of Japan is Masako. 

The current Empress of Japan is Masako (formerly Masako Owada). She became Empress on May 1, 2019, together with the Emperor.

Masako was born on December 9, 1963, three years older than the current emperor, His Majesty Tokujin.

She is the daughter of her father, Tsune Owada, who was a diplomat, and spent her childhood in a global environment due to her father’s work.

Then, after graduating from Harvard University and working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she resigned upon her marriage to become the Crown Princess.

After their marriage, their eldest daughter, Princess Aiko, was born, and the three family members have increasingly been performing official duties together.

What is the difference between an empress and a queen? 

Empress and queen also mean princess and refer to the wife of a man of high rank, but there is a distinct difference between the two characters.

Here is a detailed explanation of what is different and how.

The Empress is the wife of the Emperor 

Empress refers to the wife of the Emperor in the Japanese Imperial Household. There is only one emp ress, and even today there is no other empress besides Masako.

Incidentally, the English word for empress is “an empress. Originally, the character for “empress” was used to refer to a king, such as “son of heaven” or “emperor.

According to one theory, the Chinese character for 后, which consists of the characters for mouth and person, means one who issues orders to others.

Later, beginning with the Nihon Shoki, the term “empress” was changed to “empress” and came to refer to the regular wife of the emperor (king/emperor).

The queen is the wife of the crown prince or the prince’s wife 

The queen, on the other hand, refers to the wife of the crown prince or princess.

There is no rule that there is one empress, as in the case of the Empress, but rather more than one in the Imperial Family. They are sometimes referred to as Her Imperial Highness the Princess. The English word is “a queen.

The character for “妃” means a man’s wife. However, this character is used only for wives of members of the Imperial Family, not for wives of ordinary people.

For example, if you are the wife of the Crown Prince, you are the Crown Princess. Likewise, if she is the wife of the Prince, she is the Princess.

Compared to the queen, it is common throughout the world that the queen is higher in rank than the queen. As an exception, the king’s concubines are sometimes referred to as “queen.

If a person divorces a member of the royal family, he or she is called an “abolished queen” and is deprived of his or her status.

In addition, the wife of a superior who has retired from the position of emperor is called a superior empress. Currently, this is Michiko, who was Empress before Masako.

Incidentally, 后 and 妃 also have the same meaning of princess, and the use of 妃 as a girl’s name is particularly popular.

What is the difference between an empress and an empress dowager? 

The difference is that an empress is the wife of the emperor, while a dowager empress is the wife of the previous emperor. Empress Dowager is also sometimes referred to as Queen Dowager.

In other words, Empress Dowager generally refers to the mother of the emperor (emperor/king). However, the definition differs from country to country, and in some cases, Japan is also referred to in a different way.

Note that the mother of the current Emperor Tokujin is called the Empress Shang-ho, in keeping with her husband, the Emperor Shang-ho.

Let us look at the difference between the Empress and the Dowager Empress of the Japanese Imperial Family.

The Empress is the wife of the Emperor 

Empress refers to the regular wife of the Emperor and has no other meaning. Currently, there is only one empress, which means that Masako is the only empress in Japan.

According to the Taiho Ordinance, in principle, the Empress could only be the “Princess of the House of the Imperial Family”. Therefore, only those born into the imperial family could become empresses.

However, Emperors Nintoku and Shomu in the early 5th century made exceptions, and the Imperial Household Code enacted in the Meiji era expanded the scope to include senior noble families.

Furthermore, after World War II, this restriction was abolished, and now even ordinary people can join the imperial family and become empresses.

Empress Dowager is the wife of the previous emperor 

Empress Dowager refers to the full wife of the previous emperor. It does not matter whether or not she is the emperor’s birth mother in Japan.

Until Emperor Meiji, there were side wives in addition to the regular wife (shōshitsu), and the position and terminology of the side wives did not change even if they gave birth to a child who would become the next emperor.

For example, Emperor Meiji’s side wife gave birth to a child who later became Emperor Taisho, making her the emperor’s birth mother, but she is not called Empress Dowager.

On the other hand, although Emperor Meiji’s wife was not related to Emperor Taisho by blood, she became Empress Dowager Shoken after his accession to the throne.

In other words, if you do not become an empress (the emperor’s regular wife), you will not become a dowager empress.

The Dowager Empress was called Dowager Empress Dowager before she became Empress Dowager.

What is the difference between an empress and a middle palace? 

The term “chugu” has been used variously in different times and cultures to refer to the place where the empress resides or to distinguish it from the empress.

Here is the original meaning of chugu and one of the famous episodes from the Heian period that changed its meaning.

The term “Chuugu” originally referred to the empress’s residence. 

The term chugu originally refers to the place where the empress resides.

In time, the middle palace itself came to refer to the empress, and in many cases it is treated as another name for the empress.

At one time, it was also used to refer to three empresses: the Empress, the Dowager Empress, and the Dowager Empress.

However, since the Meiji period (1868-1912), it was decided that there would be only one empress, and the use of chugu as another name for empress disappeared.

In the Heian period, the emperor had two regular wives! 

During the Heian period, the terms empress and chugu were both used to refer to the emperor’s official wife.

Originally, there was only one official wife, and other women were clearly distinguished as side wives.

However, in the mid-Heian period, there were sometimes two regular wives. At this time, the term chugu was used to separate the terms of address, and the empress and the chugu were referred to separately.

To begin with, the term chugu originally meant the place where the empress resided, so it did not refer to the regular wife.

Nevertheless, Michinaga Fujiwara and his brother Michitaka Fujiwara, both famous in the Heian period, took advantage of Nakamiya’s words in their desire to have Michitaka’s daughter marry an emperor (to themselves) and have power over him.

This is due to the fact that Emperor Ichijo, who wanted to marry off his daughter, already had an empress, and this forced the interpretation that the rules should then be changed.

The so-called “one emperor, two empresses” situation is a famous episode in history. From this time onward, until the end of the Kamakura period, the maximum number of empresses was effectively two.

Other Empresses 

In addition to Empress Dowager and Empress Chuugu, there are several other terms used to refer to the wife of the Emperor. Specifically, they are as follows

  • court lady
  • your wife (when speaking with a junior)
  • renovation
  • woman bestowed with the title “in” (usu. the empress, imperial princesses, etc.)

We will explain one by one from here.

court lady 

Nyogo is one of the names used during the Heian period (794-1185) for the Empress. There was no fixed number of female courtesans, and they were considered to be of low status among the wives of emperors.

Eventually, as the practice of high status princesses of the lord class becoming empresses took hold, they became more important until one of them was chosen to become empress.

Since it was not uncommon for more than one family to reside in the same building at the same time, the name of the building in which the family resided was sometimes taken from the name of the building in which the family resided and used to refer to the family as “the lady of Jouka-dono”.

Of the buildings where the Empress resided, Koukouden was closer to the Emperor’s residence, and the Koukouden Empress is considered to be the first choice for the Empress.

your wife (when speaking with a junior) 

The term “miyasukoro” was originally used to mean a place where the emperor rested. However, the meaning of the word changed over time, and it came to refer to the women who attended the emperor’s bedchamber.

Not only that, it is also sometimes used to refer to a female courtesan who gave birth to a prince or princess, or to a change of clothes. In the Tale of Genji, for example, a woman called Rokujo no Gosumesho appeared.

In some cases, the title of the Imperial Household is extended to the Crown Princess and the Queen of the Imperial Family. In some cases, the birth mothers of emperors are distinguished from others and referred to as the Grand High Priestess.

It is safe to assume that there is no clear definition of the Sabbath.


The term “change of clothes” refers to the queen of the emperor, who is second in line to the female consort.

Since it had become customary for the daughters of the nobility to become courtesans, queens of lesser origins were distinguished from them and referred to as “makai” (a courtesan).

With some exceptions, however, it was possible to become a courtesan without being of the lord class if one was favored by the emperor or had a strong guardianship, such as a father in power.

On the other hand, if the emperor’s power was weakened or there was strong public opposition, no matter how favored he was by the emperor, he could not become a lady from a change of clothes.

woman bestowed with the title “in” (usu. the empress, imperial princesses, etc.) 

Nyoin is the name given to the Dowager Empress, Empress Dowager, Empress, Empress Dowager, Empress Dowager, Princess Dowager, or Princess Dowager.

The “Seungsha” is an official document issued by the emperor that conveys his orders, in other words, it can be said to be an order from the emperor.

The background of this period is that from the late Heian to Kamakura periods, there was a rule that an unmarried imperial princess could have a vast estate if she was granted a jyoin title.

Because the estate provided a source of income for the imperial family and helped them maintain their position, many women became jyoin.

Like the female court ladies, the Onna-in is also characterized by the use of the name of the place of residence or place of connection in front of the name, as in “Sanjyo-in, Fujiwara no Innoko.

Get to know the world’s royal families! 

In addition to Japan, there are many other royal families in the world, each with their own history and culture. 

By learning about the world ‘s royal families, you will gain a deeper understanding of the world’s cultures.

This website introduces and explains information about the Japanese Imperial Family and various other royal families.

If you are interested, please take a look at our other articles.

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