Education About Asia: Online Archives

Power, Legitimacy, and the Japanese Emperor

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By John Sagers

To integrate the study of Japan into the world history curriculum, it is important to find themes of comparison. Political legitimacy provides one such theme. Even when regimes have the power to rule, they try to establish their right to govern. As the oldest reigning dynasty in the world, the Japanese monarchy has evolved over nearly two millennia to support governments in a variety of historical contexts, from primitive society to a modern nation-state. This essay will outline three types of legitimacy that the Japanese emperors cultivated: sacred, historical, and popular. An analysis of each type provides one possible framework for comparing the Japanese monarchy to other political institutions in world history.