The ōke (王家, literally Princely Houses), also known as the Old Imperial Family (旧皇族), were branches of the Japanese Imperial Family created from branches of the Fushimi-no-miya house. All but one of the ōke were formed by the descendants of Prince Fushimi Kuniye. The ōke were stripped of their membership in the Imperial Family by the American Occupation Authorities in October 1947, as part of the abolition of collateral imperial houses. After that point, only the immediate family of Hirohito and those of his three brothers retained membership in the Imperial Family. However, unofficial heads of these collateral families still exist for most and are listed herein.
In recent years, conservatives have proposed to reinstate several of the former imperial branches or else to allow the imperial family to adopt male members of the former princely houses, as a solution to the Japanese succession controversy.
The ōke were, in order of founding:
- 梨本 Nashimoto (extinct)
- 久邇 Kuni
- 山階 Yamashina (extinct)
- 華頂 Kachō or Kwachō (extinct)
- 北白川 Kitashirakawa
- 東伏見 Higashifushimi or Komatsu (小松) (extinct)
- 賀陽 Kaya
- 朝香 Asaka
- 東久邇 Higashikuni
- 竹田 Takeda
Unless otherwise stated, all princes listed herein are the sons of their predecessor.
The Nashimoto-no-miya house was formed by Prince Moriosa, son of Prince Fushimi Sadayoshi (father of Prince Fushimi Kuniye)
The Kuni-no-miya house was formed by Prince Asahiko, fourth son of Prince Fushimi Kuniye
The Yamashina-no-miya house was formed by Prince Akira, eldest son of Prince Fushimi Kuniye.
The Yamashina-no-miya became extinct with the death of Yamashina Takehiko.
The Kwachō-no-miya (or Kachō-no-miya) house was formed by Prince Hirotsune, son of Prince Fushimi Kuniye.
The Kwacho-no-miya became extinct with the death of Prince Kwacho Hirotada. The line of descent was continued through the kazoku peerage under Kwacho Hironobu.
The Kitashirakawa-no-miya house was formed by Prince Satonari, thirteenth son of Prince Fushimi Kuniye
The Higashifushimi-no-miya house was formed by Prince Yoshiaki, seventh son of Prince Fushimi Kuniye.
In 1931, Emperor Hirohito directed his brother-in-law, Prince Kuni Kunihide, to leave Imperial Family status and become Count Higashifushimi Kunihide (hakushaku under the kazoku peerage system), to prevent the Higashifushimi name from extinction. Dowager Princess Higashifushimi Kaneko became a commoner on 14 October 1947. She died in Tokyo in 1955.
The Kaya-no-miya house was formed by Prince Kuninori, second son of Prince Kuni Asahiko (first Kuni-no-miya, see above)
The Asaka-no-miya house was formed by Prince Yasuhiko, eighth son of Prince Kuni Asahiko.
The Higashikuni-no-miya house was formed by Prince Naruhiko, ninth son of Prince Kuni Asahiko.
Prince Higashikuni Nobuhiko became simply "Higashikuni Nobuhiko" after the abolition of the Japanese aristocracy during the American occupation of Japan in 1946.
The Takeda-no-miya house was formed by Prince Tsunehisa, eldest son of Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa (second Kitashirakawa-no-miya).
In January 2005, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi set up a panel consisting of 10 experts from various fields to discuss the succession law and possible ways to ensure stable succession in the imperial family. At that point, no male heir had been born to the Imperial family in 40 years, prompting concerns that there wouldn't be anyone to succeed Crown Prince Naruhito after he became emperor. The panel recommended giving eligibility to females and their descendants, that the first child, regardless of sex, be given priority in ascension, and that female family members who marry commoners be allowed to retain their imperial family member status. Itsuo Sonobe, deputy chairman of the 10-member government panel and a former Supreme Court justice, said that one of the panel´s main concerns had been to find a solution that would win the people's support.
Media opinion polls showed an overwhelming majority favoring the change, but the proposed revision was met with fierce opposition from conservatives, who said that preservation of a male line was imperative to ensure that the Japanese imperial bloodline's Y chromosome (which only males carry) would be transmitted to subsequent generations of emperors, maintaining the unbroken line stretching back into antiquity. Tsuneyasu Takeda, a member of the former Takeda-no-miya collateral house and author of a book entitled "The Untold Truth of Imperial Family Members," proposed to maintain the male line by restoring the former princely houses or by allowing imperial family members to adopt males from those families. Although Takeda has written that such men should feel a responsibility to maintain the royal house, he said he would find it daunting if asked to play that role himself. According to Takeda, the heads of the former court families agreed in late 2004, just before Koizumi's advisory panel started its discussions, not to speak out on the issue and some of them told him to "not get involved in political issues." Opponents of the reinstatement of former collateral branches, like Liberal Democratic Party politician Yōichi Masuzoe, argued that it would favor members of families with tenuous blood links to long-ago emperors over contemporary female descendants of recent sovereigns.
During a series of hearings on the succession problem in early 2012, Yoshiko Sakurai and Akira Momochi, conservative members of the panel of experts, rejected proposals for female members of the imperial family to be allowed to retain their royal status after marriage and create new branches of the imperial family, and instead suggested revising the Imperial Household Law so that male descendants of former imperial families which renounced their royal status in 1947 be allowed to return to the imperial family as adoptees. Another proposal was to reinstate four of the former imperial families, a solution opposed by the government on the grounds that it would not enjoy public support. Government sources told the Yomiuri Shimbun in May 2012 that the suggestion to reinstate men from the former princely houses as imperial family members through adoption had been unexpected. The hearings are still under way as of late spring 2012.