From the author of American Monarchy (1983), Peter's Kingdom (1985), etc., a fluent and fascinating appreciation of Japan's royal house that also provides an instructive if abbreviated sociopolitical history of the island nation. From the misty past through the media-reported present, Japan has had 123 emperors and empresses whose line has endured unbroken for over 2,000 years. Packard traces the monarchy's origins to the legendary sun goddess, whose scions were forever after known as sons of heaven. Unlike other crowned heads, Japanese sovereigns have never really served as chiefs of state. Until the post-WW II Occupation, the author explains, they embodied the empire's religious and temporal aspirations, linking the Japanese people to their national heritage. For many centuries, Packard relates, the Japanese throne, though venerated, was effectively held hostage by warlord shoguns--most notably, the Tokugawas during Japan's feudal era. Their xenophobia kept the country a closed, caste-ridden society. Reforms instituted during the so-called Meiji Restoration helped transform Japan into a modern industrial power during the latter years of the 19th-century, but militarists continued to wield great power and influence, setting Japan on a disastrous course that ended in atomic holocaust. Hirohito, the desanctified incumbent who quietly celebrated his Diamond Jubilee last year, has presided over a triumphant as well as traumatic period in Japan's history. There are those, Packard observes, who believe his abdication would gainfully sever the nation's ties to best-forgotten events. Given Hirohito's sense of dynastic responsibility, however, the author considers it unlikely that he will step aside in favor of Crown Prince Akahito. An engrossing, accessible study of a perdurable institution--a study that yields substantive clues to the character of a perennially puzzling land. There are eight pages of illustrations (not seen).