|Born||29 Apr 1901|
|Died||7 Jan 1989|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Prince Hirohito was born at the Aoyama Palace in Tokyo, Japan to Crown Prince Yoshihito in 1901, who became Emperor Taisho in 1912. On 2 Nov 1916, he was made the crown prince. He was first educated at the Gakushuin Peer's School from 1908 to 1914, then a special program for the crown prince, headed by former Prime Minister Kimmochi Saionju, until 1921. On 29 Nov 1921, he became regent of Japan as his father fell ill. Prince Hirohito took an extended trip to Europe, visiting Britain, France, Italy, the Vatican, the Netherlands, and Belgium, making him the first Japanese crown prince to visit a foreign country. He became the 124th Emperor of Japan when his father passed away on 25 Dec 1926; the coronation ceremony took place on 10 Nov 1928 in Kyoto. The name of his era was Showa, which became his name after his death in 1989. Today, he is referred to nearly exclusively as Emperor Showa as a sign of respect, although many foreigners, particular those of the west, still refer to him as Emperor Hirohito.
Dating as far back as his first days as the ruler, Emperor Showa was faced with growing militarism. The military's move to control the nation's politics directly resulted in the numerous incidences of violence, including many assassinations. The assassination of Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai in 1932 completed the takeover of the government by members of the military. The combination of a militarily-controlled government and the bulk of the industrial capacity held by conservative zaibatsu families led to Japan's military expeditions to Manchuria (1931), China (1937), and then the involvement in the Pacific War. In 1936, a attempted military coup failed, and against the wishes of his advisors Emperor Showa intervened and ordered to have the coup leaders executed. However, for the most part, Emperor Showa remained an elusive figure while the political situation shifted in his nation; he was traditionally believed to be somewhat as an absentee ruler in Japan's political landscape, as the constitution called for. Though it must also be noted that recent theories point to Emperor Showa as directly responsible for the militarist movement. In a meeting On 5 Sep 1941, Emperor Showa was presented by leaders of the Army and Navy a declaration to prepare for war. Upon hearing this proposal Emperor Showa was noted to have "reprimanded [the generals and the admirals]..., his face turning red and raising his voice", according to Admiral Osami Nagano. Emperor Showa wished to leave war as the last resort that would only be exercised if all diplomatic negotiations fail to address the issue of the recent boycott of natural resources to Japan. Emperor Showa expressed his wish for peace with this poem:
Why are the waves and the wind so unsettled nowadays?
Nevertheless, the war preparations continued, especially the hawkish General Hideki Tojo (picked by Emperor Showa) replaced Prince Konoye as Prime Minister. Three months later, Japan's near-simultaneous attacks on Malaya, Philippines, Wake, Guam, and Pearl Harbor drew herself into the Pacific War.
According to traditional beliefs (as opposed to the new theories regarding Emperor Showa's possible close involvement in the war), Emperor Showa's role during WW2 was strictly in the realm of public relations and maintaining morale. Whenever a victory was achieved, his personal words of congratulations to the victorious units. Later on in the war when the American juggernaut became unstoppable, all engagements were still announced to the public by Emperor Showa as victories. The propaganda gave the Japanese people a false sense of the war progressions, but it kept the troops fighting on until American troops actually threatened the Japanese territory of Saipan in the Marianas. When bombs started to fall upon Japanese cities, all previous attempts at maintaining morale, by Emperor Showa or any other government official, collapsed in failure.
Near the last days of the war Emperor Showa led a peace-seeking faction to bring an end to the war. Prince Konoye recommended a plan to have Russia broker a peace agreement between Japan and the Allies, which was supported by the emperor. Stalin, with his personal ambitions to gain territories in the Far East by declaring war on Japan later, delayed that series of negotiations. In Jun 1945, the cabinet reassessed the war strategy, only to decide more firmly than ever on a fight to the last man. This was officially affirmed at a brief Imperial Council meeting, to which the Emperor listened in stone-faced silence. Later on in Jun 1945, Emperor Showa visited his ministers and was quoted in requesting that he desired "that concrete plans to end the war, unhampered by existing policy, be speedily studied and that efforts be made to implement them", but to no immediate avail. In the end, Emperor Showa was unable to control the hawkish elements in his cabinet, and the war continued until the total destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the declaration of war by Russia against Japan finally led to Japan's surrender. Once again breaking tradition, Emperor Showa announced his decision to surrender via a recorded radio broadcast on 15 Aug 1945. An interesting fact was that a good fraction of the Japanese population actually did not understand him; Emperor Showa had used a dialect of Japanese used by members of the Imperial court only, and was not spoken by the commoners. Nevertheless, the Japanese people obeyed their Emperor, and surrendered to the Allies. The surrender was nearly unconditional; Japan was successful in changing one clause to the surrender terms to maintain Emperor Showa at the helm of Japan's government. Furthermore, a closer look at the surrender document would reveal that, in a successful attempt to distort reality and to maintain face, he avoided any mentioning of the word "defeat" in his announcement. For more information on this speech, please see this WW2DB article on the Japanese surrender.
When General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Personnel, presided over post-war Japan as the viceroy, he maintained the much-challenged position to not try Emperor Showa as a war criminal. Despite the controversy it stirred, MacArthur's decision to avoid tainting the image of the Emperor allowed Japan to transition smoothly into an occupied territory. For that effort, MacArthur turned from one of the most hated person in Japan (before the war ended Radio Tokyo swore that MacArthur would one day be captured and hung in public in the center of Tokyo) to a beloved hero nearly overnight. He, too, was drawn by MacArthur's charisma; again breaking tradition, for the first time an emperor requested audience with someone of lower status; the Emperor Showa-MacArthur meeting produced the famous photograph of the khaki-clad American general towering over the short Emperor of Japan. During MacArthur's time in Japan, his respect for Emperor Showa grew greatly. That admiration began with Emperor Showa's willingness to accept all responsibilities of war. "I come to you, General MacArthur, to offer myself to the judgment of the powers you represent as the one to bear sole responsibility for every political and military decision made and action taken by my people in the conduct of war", he told MacArthur. MacArthur noted Emperor Showa's courage to accept a responsibility that might mean certain death sentence, and commented that he was "the First Gentleman of Japan in his own right."
With the new constitution written under the guidance of MacArthur, Emperor Showa renounced his status as a deity, and agreed to this constitution that forever forfeited Japan's capability to wage another war. With the passing of this new constitution in 1946, Japan was transformed into a constitutional monarchy. In regards to his pre-war deity status, he explained to his subjects that the ties between himself and the Japanese people had always involved "mutual trust and affection", and "do not depend upon mere legends and myths. They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine and that the Japanese people are superior to other races."
From the end of WW2 until his death in 1989, Emperor Showa was a public figure. He played an important role in rebuilding Japan's image in the international arena, which included personal visits to the United States and Britain, among other nations. Aligning with his renouncing of deity status in 1946, he gave permission for his son, then Crown Prince Akihito, to marry a commoner. He passed away on 22 Sep 1987 to cancer as the longest-reigning emperor. He was buried in the Imperial Mausoleum in Hachioji alongside of past emperors.
Emperor Showa married Princess Nagako in 1924 and had seven children. His fifth child, the oldest son, is the current ruler of Japan, Emperor Akihito. In private, Emperor Showa was an avid student of marine biology, and maintained a well equipped laboratory in the Imperial Palace.
Sources: American Caesar, the Pacific Campaign, Reminiscences, Spartacus Educational, Wikipedia.
Showa (Hirohito) Timeline
|29 Apr 1901||Prince Hirohito was born.|
|2 Nov 1916||Prince Hirohito was made the Crown Prince of Japan.|
|12 Apr 1923||Crown Prince Hirohito began a two-week tour of Taiwan.|
|25 Dec 1926||Crown Prince Hirohito became the Emperor of Japan upon his father's passing. His coronation ceremony would not take place until 1928, however.|
|10 Nov 1928||Emperor Showa was officially crowned the Emperor of Japan, even though he had been the head of state since his father Emperor Taisho's passing on 25 Dec 1926.|
|16 Nov 1934||Emperor Showa visited the Nakajima aircraft plant at Ota, Gunma Prefecture, Japan.|
|5 Aug 1937||Emperor Showa ordered that Chinese prisoners of war would not receive the treatment demanded upon by international law.|
|6 Sep 1941||Emperor Showa of Japan agreed with the proposal that, unless peace could be achieved by 10 Oct 1941, Japan was to prepare for war.|
|30 Nov 1941||Emperor Showa ordered Prime Minister Hideki Tojo to proceed with plans to start the Pacific War, and subsequently Tojo rejected US proposals to de-escalate tension in the Far East.|
|1 Dec 1941||At an Imperial Conference held in Tokyo, Japan, the decision was taken to go to war with the United States. According to Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, Emperor Showa, the country's devine ruler, did not utter a single word in response.|
|22 Jun 1944||Japanese Emperor Showa, in conversation with his younger brother Prince Takamatsu, gave approval "in principle" to the use of special attacks.|
|30 Oct 1944||During an audience with Navy Minister Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai, Emperor Showa noted "It is truly regrettable that it should be necessary to go to this extreme, but they have done well", referring to the suicide tokko attacks on American naval vessels.|
|1 Jan 1946||Emperor Showa of Japan renounced his divinity.|
|7 Jan 1989||Emperor Showa of Japan passed away.|
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939