Happy Birthday to Emperor Akihito of Japan, who turns 85 today! Continuing our Royal Orders series, we are featuring the Honours awarded by the 125th Emperor of the world’s oldest reigning dynasty, who will be abdicating in 2019.
This article has been written by fellow Royal Watcher and a twitter friend, Gabriel Aquino, who has also written about the Dutch Royal Orders, Swedish Royal Orders, Greek Royal Orders, Bulgarian Royal Orders, and the Thai Royal Orders.
But first an explanation of Orders in general- Almost every country, monarchy or not, has some form of an honours system that awards chivalry or merit, and is often used in diplomatic exchange of gifts. Each individual order has it’s own history, and in countries with multiple orders, has it’s own rank. The Head of State is usually the sovereign of the order, and has varied authority on deciding their recipients. National Orders are those which must be awarded with consultation from the government, and are official gifts, while the recipients of Dynastic Orders are at the discretion of the Sovereign, and many non-reigning families still award their Dynastic Orders, with no government authority.
Orders of their own countries are awarded to royals at birth, upon reaching the age of majority, upon marriage into the royal family, or after years of dedicated service to the country. Orders of foreign countries are usually awarded during State Visits, and are given according to rank, with the sovereigns receiving the higher order, the heirs the lower order, and the other members of the royal family participating in the visit receiving yet a lower one. However, these rules vary from country to country, and also depend on individual Sovereigns.
Orders are accompanied by a varied amount of insignia, which can include a Sash with a badge worn at the hip, a Star, ornate Collars, Badges to be worn on the shoulders, and smaller Pins, and the awarding of specific items differentiate the different grades in each individual order, and/or depend on the orders themselves. The wearing of the insignia depends on the occasion. The ornate collars of an Order are only worn very rarely at White Tie events or on Uniforms. The Sash and Star are more common and seen at White Tie State Banquets. The smaller badges may be worn when you are wearing the insignia of other orders, or at a Black Tie occasion where Orders are worn. The small pins are worn at formal occasions in the daytime, when you want to honour the occasion without making it too formal. Now that we have an explanation, lets learn about the Japanese Imperial Orders:
The Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum is the highest decoration awarded by the Japanese state. Founded back in 1876 by Emperor Meiji, the order has only one grade: the Grand Cordon. However, in 1888 Emperor Meiji instituted the distinction of the Collar into the order. The badge consists of a four-pointed white enamelled star with 32 rays edged in gilt, each of the four points being a yellow enamelled Chrysanthemum blossom, and the central disc is a red enamelled sun. The badge is topped by a yellow enamelled Chrysanthemum in both the Cordon and the Collar. The star is similar to the badge, but it does not count with the top Chrysanthemum blossom. The sash is red with dark blue edges. Royal recipients of the order include all male members of the Imperial Family of Japan, but only the Emperor is entitled to the order’s Collar. The order is awarded to foreign male royals, while female foreign royals only receive the Order of the Chrysanthemum if they are either their country’s monarch or heir to the throne. Like other Japanese orders, the Chrysanthemum order may be awarded posthumously.
The Order of the Precious Crown, the lowest Japanese order, was instituted by Emperor Meiji in 1888 with five classes. In 1896 the Emperor added three new classes to the order. After 2003, however, the order is composed of only six classes and although men are allowed to receive the order, usually only women receive it. The badge, in the shape of a gold oval medallion, consists of a central disc containing an ancient Japanese imperial crown being surrounded by a red ring. Both the star and the sash are reserved for 1st class members of the order. The star is similar to the badge, but the central disc displays a phoenix and all five points are studded with pearls, with floral designs connecting the spaces between each point. The sash is yellow with red stripes near the edges. Imperial Princesses are usually awarded the Order of the Precious Crown, either when they reach the age of majority or when they marry into the Imperial Family. Most Princesses of Japan are 1st class members of the order, nevertheless, some distantly related members of the family are awarded the 2nd class. Foreign recipients include Queen Sonja of Norway, Queen Mathilde of Belgium, Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, Queen Letizia of Spain, Queen Silvia of Sweden, Princesses Anne and Alexandra of the UK, Princesses Désirée and Christina of Sweden, Princess Alexandra of Luxembourg, Infantas Elena and Cristina of Spain and a number of other royals.
From the time of its creation in 1877, the ladies of the Japanese Imperial family, starting with Empress Shōken, have provided active support for the Japanese Red Cross Society, making socially attractive to members of the aristocracy. Today, Empress Michiko is the Honorary President of the Japanese Red Cross, and the ladies of the Imperial Family wear the Decoration of the Red Cross and the Red Cross Medal when they hand out Medals.