One last point I have never really made clear: while European royal houses make it policy to marry into other royal houses (not always European), Far Eastern royal houses generally stick to the nobility of that country, especially in Japan, with only a few sparse marriages between dynasties in China, Korea, Mongolia (the Great Khanate), and Vietnam. Japan has only one recorded royal marriage outside of Japan, and that was to the Korean royal family and it was within the last 50 years. Back to the Yamato dynasty...
Japan dates many of its eras via transitions in the dynasty, like in France, and so with the last legendary ruler, Empress Jingü, we begin the proto-historical era of rulers with Emperor Ōjin. While his dates are certainly later creations, his reign is historically attested in ancient manuscripts. The era of proto-historical rulers continued to 539 CE when solidly historic, but still traditionally dated, rulers continued the family dynasty. No fewer than six empresses reigned during these centuries, a feat never accomplished by contemporary dynasties in Asia or Europe.
Japan had one major dynastic civil war which lasted from 1331 until 1392. Basically, the dynasty split in two, with one court ruling in Kyoto (north) and the other in Yoshino (south). The rift occurred in the previous century when Emperor Go-Saga formulated a plan to alternate the imperial succession between the lines of his two sons. The plan proved unworkable and within a few decades, the family was fighting for the throne. This dispute was not helped at all by the shoguns.
A shogun is the modern equivalent to a dictator of sorts...kind of a Francisco Franco or Mussolini kind of fellow. Mind you, the position is similar, not necessarily the attitude. During various times in Japanese history, especially from 1192 until 1867, shoguns were the actual rulers of Japan. They were military leaders in various hereditary lines that claimed their power from the emperor and ruled Japan in the emperor's name. In a rather bad comparison, they were the Holy Roman Emperor to the Pope (the HRE was a military leader and implementer while the Pope basically said what to do without much force). Anyway, back to the story...
|The Northern and Southern Courts of Japan|
In 1333, Emperor Go-Daigo staged a power-play called the Kemmu Restoration. He wanted the power of state to return to the royal family. The shogun responded by placing his cousin on the Japanese throne, attempting to depose the upstart Go-Daigo. The feud lasted for nearly 60 years until the legitimate Southern Emperor abdicated in favor of the Northern Emperor. Thus, the Northern Emperor became the emperor of Japan, although it was still ruled by the shogun. Descendants of the senior line still live to this date and after World War II, one even claimed the Japanese throne, claiming the junior ruling line were pretenders...his demands were not met but he wasn't arrested since his point was, in fact, true according to Japanese archivists and historians.
The imperial house continued in relative protection and obscurity for the successive centuries until anti-shogun politics and the arrival of a strange American commodore changed everything. Japan had isolated itself early on in the Age of Discovery, restricting trade to the remote outlying peninsula of the port of Nagasaki (yes, THAT Nagasaki). Since the 1600s, only the Dutch had been allowed to trade at all on Japanese waters and the court had quite isolated itself from any non-Japanese influence. Then a brash American named Matthew Perry sailed his ship right into the port of the Edo in 1854 and the shogunate agreed to open Japan up to American trade. The Emperor Komei and the nobility responded with an uprising that continued into the reign of the next emperor, Meiji. Meiji defeated the shogunate for the first time in centuries and established a new constitutional monarchy with himself as its head. The constitution stated that the shogunate was stripped of all its powers and that the "Emperor is the head of the Empire [and] has the supreme command of the Army and the Navy."
The Japanese Empire was born and with it came rapid industrialization and imperialism. Meiji opened Japan's borders to more foreign countries and began to spread the empire out to neighboring islands. He moved the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo and established Japan as a player on the international stage. His son, Taisho, continued to spread out, especially during World War I when Japan joined the allied powers. Taisho, though, was frail and lacked the charisma of his father and nearly destroyed the progress made by Meiji. It took a second world war to complete that destruction.
Emperor Hirohito, or technically Showa since he is now deceased, brought Japan to its largest imperial height and also destroyed it and the emperorship. Hirohito was the longest reigning historical Japanese emperor and he began that reign in 1926. Hirohito oversaw the rapid industrialization and expansion of Japan in the 1930s. In 1931, he invaded Manchuria (northern China) and placed the deposed Chinese emperor as a puppet on the Manchurian throne. Six years later, in 1937, he invaded China proper and began the Second Sino-Japanese War, which would turn into the western front of World War II in 1939. His low point was the dismissal of international law regarding captured prisoners in the summer of 1937, a move that would be remembered by American prisoners of war in World War II. In 1939, Japan joined Germany and Italy to form the Axis Powers.
|The Empire of Japan|
The Allied Powers for the most part ignored Japan, just as the United States did, until December 8th when Japan attacked Malaysia and Hawaii on the same day (Dec. 7th in Hawaiian time). The Allies, namely Great Britain and the Netherlands, joined the United States in declaring war against the Japanese Empire. Jump four years later, to August 12, 1945: Japan had experienced a total reversal of fortunes in the war and Tokyo itself was threatened by nuclear attack. On August 15, 1945, Japan unconditionally surrendered to the Allied Powers and the Meiji Restoration, begun in 1868, ended soon after. While Hirohito was personally responsible for much of the war, he was pardoned by the U.S. government since his loyalty was more important than his punishment. The Japanese, under the direction of U.S. General MacArthur, wrote a new constitution based on the American model, placing a prime minister as the supreme executive of the state and removing all sovereign roles from the emperor. The emperor, in effect, became a powerless celebrity. He spent the remainder of his life building up Japanese influence in the world and conducting diplomacy.