I feel the answer to this might be super simple, like the fact that her husband is still alive and holds the title of 太上天皇. But I just want clarification on this.

Should Akihito pass away, then would Michiko's title change to 皇太后 or would her title stay as 上皇后?

I understand that 皇太后 = dowager empress, and that the English translation of "dowager" means that the title would go to an empress whose husband has passed away, but is this really the case in terms of Japanese imperial titles or is there some other formalities that the English translations don't capture?

Are these correct?

  • 太上天皇 = retired emperor
  • 上皇后 = retired empress
  • 皇太后 = dowager empress

1 Answer 1


Traditionally a 皇太后 is (roughly) either a mother of emperor or a wife of a former emperor. So the current 上皇后 could be called a 皇太后, but is not due to the law.



So apparently 上皇后 was coined quite recently.

The article contains how 皇太后 meant differently in different times. Note that until the end of 平成, there had been no 上皇(太上天皇) = retired emperor in the first place so that the word was not exactly common outside contexts of premodern history.

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