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According to the oldest Japanese history book still in existence, the first Emperor assumed the Imperial Throne in the year 660 B.C. On the basis of more objective historical facts, however, the earliest date for which the existence of an emperor can be confirmed is somewhere in the fourth or fifth century A.D. After the introduction of a Chinese type legal system in the seventh century, the Emperor did for a time actually govern in his own right but this period of true imperial rule was short- lived. For a period of about one thousand years beginning in the ninth century, the country was under the control of the nobility and their successors, the warrior class. However, at no point in history did the actual power holder overthrow the Emperor and assume the Imperial Throne. Rather, the rulers of the time based their governments on the sovereign right conferred upon them by the Emperor.
The Imperial Household Act currently specifies that the person ascending to the Imperial Throne must be a male who is a descendant from the Emperor through a line of males. Recently, taking Japanese public opinion trends into account, the Japanese government established an advisory panel to consider measures for ensuring “stable succession," including whether to allow an empress.
The name of the present Emperor of Japan, the one hundred and twenty-fifth to occupy the Imperial Throne, is Akihito. He was born on December 23, 1933 and became Emperor on January 7, 1989. Having grown up during the Second World War, he frequently speaks of the importance of peace.
The Empress's name is Michiko. Born a commoner, Shoda Michiko, she and the Emperor first met playing tennis. The story of their tennis court romance is famous among Japanese.
The Crown Prince, Naruhito, was born in 1960. He studied at Gakushuin University and in England at Oxford University. He married Miss Owada Masako, born a commoner, in 1993. The couple's first child, Imperial Princess Aiko, was born on December 1, 2001.