Emperor Shōwa
Emperor of Japan
Reign 25 December 1926 –
1 January 1947
Enthronement 10 November 1928
Predecessor Taishō
Successor Akihito
Prince Regent of Japan
Tenure 29 November 1921 –
25 December 1926
Monarch Taishō
Spouse Empress Kōjun
Full name
Hirohito (裕仁)
House Imperial House of Japan
Father Emperor Taishō
Mother Empress Teimei
Born 29 April 1901
Aoyama Detached Palace, Tokyo, Japan Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg
Died 7 January 1989 (aged 87)
Kyoto Palace, Kyoto, Japan Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg

Emperor Shōwa (昭和天皇 Shōwa-tennō, 29 April 1901 – 7 January 1989) was the 124th Emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession, reigning for around 20 years from 25 December 1926, until his abdication on 1 January 1947. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Akihito, with Prince Mikasa as Prince Regent. Although better known outside Japan by his personal name Hirohito, in Japan, he is now referred to primarily by his posthumous name Shōwa. The word Shōwa is the name of the era that corresponded with the Emperor's reign, and was made the Emperor's own name upon his abdication. The name Hirohito means "abundant benevolence".

At the start of his reign, Japan was already one of the great powers—the ninth-largest economy in the world and the third-largest naval power. He was the head of state under the Constitution of the Empire of Japan during Japan's imperial expansion, militarization, and involvement in the Pacific War. After Japan's surrender of the war, he was not prosecuted for war crimes as many other leading government figures were, and his degree of involvement in wartime decisions remains controversial among historians. During the early post-war period, he was pressured by members of the imperial family into abdicating in favor of his 13 year old son. He spent the remainder of his life living in isolation in Kyoto.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Postwar life[edit | edit source]

File:Macarthur hirohito.jpg

Gaetano Faillace's photograph of General MacArthur and the Emperor at Allied GHQ in Tokyo, September 17, 1945

As the Emperor chose his uncle Prince Higashikuni as prime minister to assist the occupation, there were attempts by numerous leaders to have him put on trial for alleged war crimes. Many members of the imperial family, such as Princes Chichibu, Takamatsu and Higashikuni, pressured the Emperor to abdicate so that one of the Princes could serve as regent until Crown Prince Akihito came of age. On 27 February 1946, the Emperor's youngest brother, Prince Mikasa (Takahito), even stood up in the privy council and indirectly urged the Emperor to step down and accept responsibility for Japan's defeat. According to Minister of Welfare Ashida's diary, "Everyone seemed to ponder Mikasa's words. Never have I seen His Majesty's face so pale."

U.S. General Douglas MacArthur initially insisted that Emperor Hirohito retain the throne. MacArthur saw the Emperor as a symbol of the continuity and cohesion of the Japanese people. Some historians criticize the decision to exonerate the Emperor and all members of the imperial family who were implicated in the war, such as Prince Chichibu, Prince Asaka, Prince Higashikuni and Prince Hiroyasu Fushimi, from criminal prosecutions.

Before the war crime trials actually convened, the SCAP, the IPS, and Japanese officials worked behind the scenes not only to prevent the Imperial family from being indicted, but also to influence the testimony of the defendants to ensure that no one implicated the Emperor. High officials in court circles and the Japanese government collaborated with Allied GHQ in compiling lists of prospective war criminals, while the individuals arrested as Class A suspects and incarcerated solemnly vowed to protect their sovereign against any possible taint of war responsibility. Thus, "months before the Tokyo tribunal commenced, MacArthur's highest subordinates were working to attribute ultimate responsibility for Pearl Harbor to Hideki Tōjō" by allowing "the major criminal suspects to coordinate their stories so that the Emperor would be spared from indictment." According to John W. Dower, "This successful campaign to absolve the Emperor of war responsibility knew no bounds. Hirohito was not merely presented as being innocent of any formal acts that might make him culpable to indictment as a war criminal, he was turned into an almost saintly figure who did not even bear moral responsibility for the war." According to Bix, "MacArthur's truly extraordinary measures to save Hirohito from trial as a war criminal had a lasting and profoundly distorting impact on Japanese understanding of the lost war."

Abdication[edit | edit source]

File:Emperor Showa visit to Hiroshima in 1947.JPG

Emperor Hirohito visiting Hiroshima in 1947

Hirohito was not put on trial, but he decided to abdicate over the quasi-official claim that the Emperor of Japan was an arahitogami, i.e., an incarnate divinity. This was motivated by the fact that, according to the Japanese constitution of 1889, the Emperor had a divine power over his country, which was derived from the Shinto belief that the Japanese Imperial Family was the offspring of the sun goddess Amaterasu. Hirohito was however persistent in the idea that the Emperor of Japan should be considered a descendant of the gods. In December 1945, he told his vice-grand-chamberlain Michio Kinoshita: "It is permissible to say that the idea that the Japanese are descendants of the gods is a false conception; but it is absolutely impermissible to call chimerical the idea that the Emperor is a descendant of the gods." The theory of a constitutional monarchy had already had some proponents in Japan. In 1935, when Tatsukichi Minobe advocated the theory that sovereignty resides in the states, of which the Emperor is just an organ (the tennō kikan setsu), it caused a furor. He was forced to resign from the House of Peers and his post at the Tokyo Imperial University, his books were banned and an attempt was made on his life. Hirohito signed the instruments of abdication at Kōkyo on 1 January 1947. The Emperor's abdication ended the Shōwa era. On the same day a new era began: the Heisei era, effective at midnight the following day.

File:Ford and Emperor1975.jpg

The Empress, First Lady Betty Ford, the Emperor, and President Gerald Ford at the White House before a state dinner held in honor of the Japanese head of state for the first time. October 2, 1975.

For the rest of his life, Hirohito was a recluse, and lived under a form of house arrest in Kyoto. The former emperor was deeply interested in and well-informed about marine biology, and the Imperial Palace contained a laboratory from which the Emperor published several papers in the field under his personal name "Hirohito". His contributions included the description of several dozen species of Hydrozoa new to science.

File:Showa Shrine.jpg

Hirohito's tomb in the Musashi Imperial Graveyard, Hachiōji, Tokyo

On 22 September 1987, the Hirohito underwent surgery on his pancreas after having digestive problems for several months. The doctors discovered that he had duodenal cancer. He appeared to be making a full recovery for several months after the surgery. About a year later, however, on 19 September 1988, he collapsed in his palace, and his health worsened over the next several months as he suffered from continuous internal bleeding. On 7 January 1989, at 7:55 AM, the grand steward of Japan's Imperial Household Agency, Shoichi Fujimori, officially announced the death of Emperor Hirohito, and revealed details about his cancer for the first time. Hirohito was survived by his wife, his five surviving children, ten grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

On 24 February Emperor Hirohito's state funeral was held, and unlike that of his predecessor, it was formal but not conducted in a strictly Shinto manner. A large number of world leaders attended the funeral. Emperor Hirohito is buried in the Musashi Imperial Graveyard in Hachiōji, alongside Emperor Taishō, his father.

Titles, styles and honours[edit | edit source]

Monarchical styles of
Emperor Shōwa
Japanese Imperial Seal.svg
Reference style His Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Sir
  • 29 April 1901 – 30 July 1912: His Imperial Highness The Prince Michi
  • 30 July 1912 – 25 December 1926: His Imperial Highness The Crown Prince
    • 29 November 1921 – 25 December 1926: His Imperial Highness The Regent
  • 25 December 1926 – 1 January 1947: His Majesty The Emperor
  • Posthumous title: His Majesty Emperor Shōwa
Born: 29 April 1901 Died: 7 January 1989
Japanese royalty
Preceded by
Emperor Taishō
Emperor of Japan
25 December 1926 – 1 January 1947
Succeeded by
Emperor Akihito
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.