April 29, 1901- January 7, 1989
Emperor Showa Japan’s longest reigning emperorby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
“I wanted very much to avoid war and I feel it is very regrettable that circumstances led to war.” Emperor Hirohito Sept. 27, 1945 to General Douglas MacArthur.
Born on April 29, 1901, during the reign of his grandfather, Mutsuhito Emperor Meiji, to the Crown Prince Yoshihito and his wife Sadako. Hirohito, the 124th emperor of Japan, was to become Japan’s longest reigning emperor.
Shortly after his birth Hirohito was taken from his parents, according to a long-established custom, and put under the guardianship of a vice admiral in the imperial navy until November 1904, when he returned to his parent’s official residence the Akasaka Palace. Then in April of 1909 he was sent to Gakushuin (Peers School) where he was enrolled in a special class of 12 boys along with two of his imperial cousins. The head of the school, Gen. Maresuke Nogi, took a special interest in the education of the young prince. And during the time that he tutored him he tried to instill in him many of the character traits that he would need to rule a nation.
In September of 1912 Hirohito’s grandfather died and his father ascended to the throne, taking the reign name of Taisho. Shortly after that Hirohito was appointed heir apparent to the throne. Unfortunately at this time he also lost his mentor, Nogi. Nogi and his wife committed suicide as part of a Japanese ritual on the day of his grandfather’s funeral. Hirohito continued his education under another military hero, Adm. Heihachiro Togo. Togo was a good man but the crown prince never had the same affection for him that he had with Nogi. It is under Togo that Hirohito first took an interest in Marine Biology, an area that he later became an acknowledge expert in.
On February 4, 1918 Hirohito became engaged to Princess Nagako, daughter of Prince Kuniyoshi Kuninomiya. Unfortunately there were objections to the match and the wedding was put off for six years. In March of 1921, Hirohito, accompanied by a large retinue, set off for a tour of Europe. He became the first crown prince of Japan to go abroad, Traveling through France, Holland, Italy, and England. In England he spent time with the royal family which left a deep and lasting impression on him. The informality with which the British royal family behaved was new to him and he liked it.
November 25, 1921 shortly after his return to Japan, from Europe, Hirohito was appointed to serve as regent for his father, who had begun to show signs of mental derangement. Two years later in December 1923 Hirohito was almost killed by a young radical. Finally his imperial wedding took place, and on January 26, 1924 as Hirohito and Nagako were united in holy matrimony. The imperial couple later had five daughters, the first born in December 1926, and two sons, the first born in December 1933.
Even though Hirohito acceded to the throne on December 25, 1926 his formal enthronement didn’t take place till November 1928 according to ancient rituals. He then became the 124th emperor in direct lineage. Customarily, when Hirohito became emperor he took a reign name. He chose the name of Showa, which means “Enlightened Peace” and was formally known as Showa Tenno, Tenno meaning “Heavenly Sovereign.” Hirohito’s choice of reign name was ironic for in his reign Japan experienced one of the most devastating wars that this world has known, World War II.
During the war, Hirohito refused to leave the imperial palace at Tokyo even after the air raids. He said that he wished to share in the hardships of his subjects. He did endure for five years until the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. One on Hiroshima at 8:15 A.M. on Monday, August 6, 1945 and the other on Nagasaki at 11:02 A.M. on Thursday, August 9th, 1945.
At a historic imperial conference on August 9, 1945, just hours after the bombing of Nagasaki, the Emperor made clear his determination to “endure the unendurable” his opinion was in favor of surrendering to the Allies. Although his top ministers of war wanted to continue the struggle even "with sharpened bamboo", on Aug 14, 1945 the Japanese agreed to an unconditional surrender. Japan formally surrendered on September 2, 1945. Many speculated about whether the Emperor would be punished as a war criminal. Hirohito also wondered what would happen to him. He frequently expressed his willingness to abdicate as a token of his responsibility for the war. But American authorities, including General Douglas MacArthur, decided that it would be easier to stabilize and reform Japan if they let him remain as ruler but not a Shinto deity. On January 1, 1946 the Emperor once and for all gave up any claims to being a sacred monarch by issuing a rescript that denied his divinity as a descendant of the sun-goddess.
During the years of the US occupation and afterward, every effort was made to "democratize" the throne by trying to get the Emperor to mingle with the people. At first, the Emperor was clumsy and uncomfortable when he met his subjects. He won the nickname "Mr. Is-that-so?" because of his mechanical comments on visits to factories and schools. Even though the Emperor mingled with the people some he still remained rather aloof. Despite this aloofness he and the imperial family soon became popular figures in newspapers and magazines.
Hirohito became a respected marine biologist and wrote a number of books on the subject. The Emperor lived a modest, sober, and shy life when not engaged in official functions. In 1959 his son Crown Prince Akihito broke tradition by marrying a commoner, Michiko Shoda and the line of succession was assured through their son Prince Hiro. In 1972 Hirohito again traveled to Europe but was met with hostile demonstrations. He then took a trip to the United States in 1975, which resulted in a more friendly reception. On January 7, 1989, at the age of 87, Showa Tenno, the heavenly sovereign of enlighten peace who saw Japan through one of its most violent times, Hirohito, died after a long illness. Due to his interest in science and in modernizing his country he was reported have been buried with his microscope and a Mickey Mouse watch. He was very right in saying, “it was very regrettable that circumstances led to war.”
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<http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/771890/posts> “Hirohito tried his best to avoid war” freerepublic 11/12/03
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<http://search.biography.com/print_record.pl?id=6590> “Hirohito” Biography on A&E 11/12/03