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I know that Japanese emperors are referred to as 天皇 rather than 皇帝 which is used for almost all emperors outside of Japan including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas but does the same thing apply to Japanese princesses and princes? Are modern and ancient/Feudal Japan princesses and princes referred to by another word? How would you refer to a princess or prince in a Japanese fairytale?

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The situation is complicated because there are several words for prince and princess.

  • 王子 is the primary translation for prince. However, Japanese Emperor's son is almost always called 皇太子, not 王子. Note that this is a tricky title that has been given to various type of people under various rules (see Wikipedia).

  • 皇太子 refers strictly to Emperor's son who will be the next Emperor (sometimes referred to as crown prince). It mainly refers to Japanese 天皇's son now, but technically it can refer to the King's son in any country. (By the way, the current Japanese emperor does not have a son, so Japan has no 皇太子 now.)

  • 親王 refers to any male member of the royal family who is not the current or former Emperor. 皇太子 is also technically a 親王, although he is almost never called a 親王 in practice. Like 皇太子, it was often used to refer to foreign princes in the past, but now it usually refers to Japanese princes.

  • 王女 is the primary translation for princess. The female equivalent of 王子.

  • 内親王 refers to any female member of the royal family who is not the wife of the current/former Emperor. Now this usually refers to Japanese princesses.

In summary:

Japanese English Example
Japanese Emperor's son 皇太子 Prince (vacant)
Japanese Emperor's brother/nephew 親王 Prince Prince Fumihito, Prince Hisahito
Japanese Emperor's daughter 内親王 Princess Princess Aiko
Japanese Emperor's sister/niece 内親王 Princess (former) Princess Sayako, Princess Kako
Western1 Emperor/King's son 王子 (sometimes 皇太子) Prince
Western Emperor/King's brother/nephew 王子 (rarely 親王) (Prince)
Western Emperor/King's daughter 王女 (sometimes 皇太子2, rarely 皇太王女2) Princess
Western Emperor/King's sister/niece 王女 (rarely 内親王) (Princess)
1: For some Asian countries, the situation is more complicated because they may have shared naming conventions with Japan.
2: Used only if she is the next Empress/Queen.
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  • "For some Asian countries, the situation is more complicated because they may have shared naming conventions with Japan." IIRC, didn't Japan originally get their royal titles by copying the titles of the Chinese emperor and his family?
    – nick012000
    Nov 24 at 13:32
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I don't think you can find a lot of princes and princesses in Japanese 昔話{むかしばなし} (legends/folktales) to begin with. One example that I can think of is 乙姫{おとひめ} in 『浦島太郎』 who is depicted as a princess from the Dragon Palace. There is also 豊玉姫{トヨタマヒメ} (Toyotama-hime) from 『日本書紀』, daughter of sea god 海神{ワタツミ}.

姫{ひめ}(お姫様) is used in translated names and titles of Western fair tale and folklore princesses, such as 白雪姫{しらゆきひめ} (Snow White), but the concept is essentially different. A European style prince is called 王子{おうじ}(王子様) in Japanese translation.

But it should be noted that the word 姫 is not restricted to princesses. かぐや姫 in 『竹取物語{たけとりものがたり}』 is not a princess by Western definition.

Now, the first part of your question: how are members of the Japanese royal family addressed and referred to?

I believe in the news Japanese princes and princesses are simply referred to as name + さま/様. Example:

宮内庁関係者はため息をつく。11月6日に執り行われた、紀子さまの父・川嶋辰彦さんの葬儀。秋篠宮ご夫妻、佳子さま悠仁さまだけでなく、小室眞子さん、圭さん夫妻も駆けつけたのだ。(source)

Note that Princess Akishino is referred to as 紀子さま, Princess Kako 佳子さま, Prince Hisahito 悠仁さま, while people who are not considered members of the royal house are referred to using the more modest さん title. 小室眞子さん is addressed as such because she has given up her title and thus is no longer a member of the royal house.

When you talk to members of the royal house or write to them, you are supposed to address them as 殿下{でんか}. Their titles are 内親王{ないしんのう}, 女王{じょおう}, 親王{しんのう}, or 親王妃{しんのうひ}, depending on their relations to the emperor and their standing in the royal house. These words are translated to prince/princess in English.

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