🤩 Discover new information from across the web


Emperor of Japan from 1926 to 1989

Top 10 Hirohito related articles

Emperor Shōwa
The Emperor in 1935
Emperor of Japan
Reign25 December 1926 – 7 January 1989
Enthronement10 November 1928
Prime Ministers
Prince Regent of Japan
Tenure29 November 1921 –
25 December 1926
Prime Ministers
BornMichinomiya Hirohito
(1901-04-29)29 April 1901
Tōgū Palace, Aoyama, Minato, Tokyo, Empire of Japan
Died7 January 1989(1989-01-07) (aged 87)
Fukiage Palace, Japan
Burial24 February 1989
(m. 1924)
Era name and dates
Shōwa: 25 December 1926 – 7 January 1989
HouseImperial House of Japan
FatherEmperor Taishō
MotherEmpress Teimei

Emperor Shōwa (昭和, 29 April 1901 – 7 January 1989), better known in English by his personal name Hirohito[a] (裕仁), was the 124th emperor of Japan according to the traditional order of succession, ruling over the Empire of Japan[b] from 25 December 1926 until 2 May 1947, after which he was Emperor of the state of Japan[c] until his death. He was succeeded by his fifth child and eldest son, Akihito. Hirohito and his wife, Empress Kōjun, had seven children, two sons and five daughters. By 1979, Hirohito was the only monarch in the world with the title "emperor." Hirohito was the longest-lived and longest-reigning historical Japanese emperor and one of the longest-reigning monarchs in the world.

At the start of his reign, Japan was already one of the great powersthe ninth largest economy in the world, the third-largest naval power, and one of the four permanent members of the council of the League of Nations.[3] He was the head of state under the Constitution of the Empire of Japan during Japan's imperial expansion, militarization, and involvement in World War II. After Japan's surrender, he was not prosecuted for war crimes as many other leading government figures were. His degree of involvement in wartime decisions remains controversial.[4] During the post-war period, he became the symbol of the state of Japan under the post-war constitution and Japan's recovery. By the end of his reign, Japan had emerged as the world's second-largest economy.[5]

In Japan, reigning emperors are known only as "the Emperor." He is now referred to primarily by his posthumous name, Shōwa, which is the name of the era coinciding with his reign.

Hirohito Intro articles: 16

Early life

Hirohito in 1902 as an infant
Emperor Taishō's four sons in 1921: Hirohito, Takahito, Nobuhito and Yasuhito

Born in Tokyo's Aoyama Palace (during the reign of his grandfather, Emperor Meiji) on 29 April 1901,[6] Hirohito was the first son of 21-year-old Crown Prince Yoshihito (the future Emperor Taishō) and 17-year-old Crown Princess Sadako (the future Empress Teimei).[7] He was the grandson of Emperor Meiji and Yanagihara Naruko. His childhood title was Prince Michi. Ten weeks after he was born, Hirohito was removed from the court and placed in the care of Count Kawamura Sumiyoshi, who raised him as his grandchild. At the age of 3, Hirohito and his brother Yasuhito were returned to court when Kawamura died – first to the imperial mansion in Numazu, Shizuoka, then back to the Aoyama Palace.[8] In 1908 he began elementary studies at the Gakushūin (Peers School).

Hirohito Early life articles: 9

Crown Prince era

When his grandfather, Emperor Meiji, died on 30 July 1912, Hirohito's father, Yoshihito, assumed the throne. Hirohito became the heir apparent, and he was formally commissioned as a second lieutenant in the army and an ensign in the navy. He was also decorated with the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum. In 1914, he was promoted to the ranks of Lieutenant in the army and Sub-Lieutenant in the navy. In 1916, he was promoted to Captain and Lieutenant in the army and navy. Hirohito was formally proclaimed Crown Prince and heir apparent on 2 November 1916. An investiture ceremony was not required to confirm this status.[9]

Hirohito attended Gakushūin Peers' School from 1908 to 1914 and then a special institute for the crown prince (Tōgū-gogakumonsho) from 1914 to 1921. In 1920 Hirohito was promoted to the rank of Major in the army and Lieutenant Commander in the navy.


The Crown Prince watches a boat race at Oxford University in the UK in 1921
In May 1921, he visited Edinburgh, Scotland

From 3 March to 3 September 1921 (Taisho 10), the Crown Prince made official visits to the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Vatican City. This was the first visit to Western Europe by the Crown Prince.[d] Despite strong opposition in Japan, this was realized by the efforts of elder Japanese statesmen (Genrō) such as Yamagata Aritomo and Saionji Kinmochi.

The departure of Prince Hirohito was widely reported in newspapers. The Japanese battleship Katori was used and departed from Yokohama, sailed to Naha, Hong Kong, Singapore, Colombo, Suez, Cairo, and Gibraltar. It arrived in Portsmouth two months later on 9 May, and on the same day they reached the British capital London. He was welcomed in the UK as a partner of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and met with King George V and Prime Minister David Lloyd George. That evening, a banquet was held at Buckingham Palace and a meeting with George V and Prince Arthur of Connaught. George V said that he treated his father like Hirohito, who was nervous in an unfamiliar foreign country, and that relieved his tension. The next day, he met Prince Edward (the future Edward VIII) at Windsor Castle, and a banquet was held every day thereafter. In London, he toured the British Museum, Tower of London, Bank of England, Lloyd's Marine Insurance, Oxford University, Army University, and Naval War College. He also enjoyed theater at the New Oxford Theater and the Delhi Theater.[10] At Cambridge University, he listened to Professor Tanner's lecture on "Relationship between the British Royal Family and its People" and was awarded an honorary doctorate degree.[11] He visited Edinburgh, Scotland, from the 19th to the 20th, and was also awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws at the University of Edinburgh. He stayed at the residence of John Stewart-Murray, 7th Duke of Atholl, for three days. "The rise of Bolsheviks won't happen if you live a simple life like Duke Athol."[11]

In Italy, he met with King Vittorio Emanuele III and others, attended official banquets in various countries, and visited places such as the fierce battlefields of World War I.


Prince Hirohito and British Prime Minister Lloyd George, 1921

After returning to Japan, Hirohito became Regent of Japan (Sesshō) on 29 November 1921, in place of his ailing father, who was affected by mental illness. In 1923 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the army and Commander in the navy, and army Colonel and Navy Captain in 1925.

During Hirohito's regency, many important events occurred:

In the Four-Power Treaty on Insular Possessions signed on 13 December 1921, Japan, the United States, Britain, and France agreed to recognize the status quo in the Pacific. Japan and Britain agreed to end the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. The Washington Naval Treaty was signed on 6 February 1922. Japan withdrew troops from the Siberian Intervention on 28 August 1922. The Great Kantō earthquake devastated Tokyo on 1 September 1923. On 27 December 1923, Daisuke Namba attempted to assassinate Hirohito in the Toranomon Incident, but his attempt failed. During interrogation, he claimed to be a communist and was executed, but some have suggested that he was in contact with the Nagacho faction in the Army.

Hirohito Crown Prince era articles: 50


Prince Hirohito and his wife, Princess Nagako, in 1924

Prince Hirohito married his distant cousin Princess Nagako Kuni, the eldest daughter of Prince Kuniyoshi Kuni, on 26 January 1924. They had two sons and five daughters[12] (see Issue).

The daughters who lived to adulthood left the imperial family as a result of the American reforms of the Japanese imperial household in October 1947 (in the case of Princess Shigeko) or under the terms of the Imperial Household Law at the moment of their subsequent marriages (in the cases of Princesses Kazuko, Atsuko, and Takako).

Hirohito Marriage articles: 2


Imperial Standard as Emperor

On 25 December 1926, Hirohito assumed the throne upon the death of his father, Yoshihito. The Crown Prince was said to have received the succession (senso).[13] The Taishō era's end and the Shōwa era's beginning (Enlightened Peace) were proclaimed. The deceased Emperor was posthumously renamed Emperor Taishō within days. Following Japanese custom, the new Emperor was never referred to by his given name but rather was referred to simply as "His Majesty the Emperor" which may be shortened to "His Majesty." In writing, the Emperor was also referred to formally as "The Reigning Emperor."

In November 1928, the Emperor's ascension was confirmed in ceremonies (sokui)[13] which are conventionally identified as "enthronement" and "coronation" (Shōwa no tairei-shiki); but this formal event would have been more accurately described as a public confirmation that his Imperial Majesty possesses the Japanese Imperial Regalia,[14] also called the Three Sacred Treasures, which have been handed down through the centuries.[15]

Hirohito Ascension articles: 6

Early reign

Emperor Hirohito after his enthronement ceremony in 1928, dressed in sokutai

The first part of Hirohito's reign took place against a background of financial crisis and increasing military power within the government through both legal and extralegal means. The Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy held veto power over the formation of cabinets since 1900. Between 1921 and 1944, there were no fewer than 64 incidents of political violence.

Hirohito narrowly escaped assassination by a hand grenade thrown by a Korean independence activist, Lee Bong-chang, in Tokyo on 9 January 1932, in the Sakuradamon Incident.

Another notable case was the assassination of moderate Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi in 1932, marking the end of civilian control of the military. The February 26 incident, an attempted military coup, followed in February 1936. It was carried out by junior Army officers of the Kōdōha faction who had the sympathy of many high-ranking officers including Prince Chichibu (Yasuhito), one of the Emperor's brothers. This revolt was occasioned by a loss of political support by the militarist faction in Diet elections. The coup resulted in the murders of several high government and Army officials.

When Chief Aide-de-camp Shigeru Honjō informed him of the revolt, the Emperor immediately ordered that it be put down and referred to the officers as "rebels" (bōto). Shortly thereafter, he ordered Army Minister Yoshiyuki Kawashima to suppress the rebellion within the hour. He asked for reports from Honjō every 30 minutes. The next day, when told by Honjō that the high command had made little progress in quashing the rebels, the Emperor told him "I Myself, will lead the Konoe Division and subdue them." The rebellion was suppressed following his orders on 29 February.[16]

Hirohito Early reign articles: 21

Second Sino-Japanese War

The Emperor on his favorite white horse Shirayuki (lit. 'white-snow')

Starting from the Mukden Incident in 1931 in which Japan staged a sham "Chinese attack" as a pretext to invade Manchuria, Japan occupied Chinese territories and established puppet governments. Such "aggression was recommended to Hirohito" by his chiefs of staff and prime minister Fumimaro Konoe, and Hirohito never personally objected to any invasion of China.[17] His main concern seems to have been the possibility of an attack by the Soviet Union in the north. His questions to his chief of staff, Prince Kan'in Kotohito, and minister of the army, Hajime Sugiyama, were mostly about the time it could take to crush Chinese resistance.

According to Akira Fujiwara, Hirohito endorsed the policy of qualifying the invasion of China as an "incident" instead of a "war"; therefore, he did not issue any notice to observe international law in this conflict (unlike what his predecessors did in previous conflicts officially recognized by Japan as wars), and the Deputy Minister of the Japanese Army instructed the chief of staff of Japanese China Garrison Army on 5 August not to use the term "prisoners of war" for Chinese captives. This instruction led to the removal of the constraints of international law on the treatment of Chinese prisoners.[18] The works of Yoshiaki Yoshimi and Seiya Matsuno show that the Emperor also authorized, by specific orders (rinsanmei), the use of chemical weapons against the Chinese.[19] During the invasion of Wuhan, from August to October 1938, the Emperor authorized the use of toxic gas on 375 separate occasions,[20] despite the resolution adopted by the League of Nations on 14 May condemning Japanese use of toxic gas.

Hirohito Second Sino-Japanese War articles: 7

World War II


In July 1939, the Emperor quarrelled with his brother, Prince Chichibu, over whether to support the Anti-Comintern Pact, and reprimanded the army minister, Seishirō Itagaki.[21] But after the success of the Wehrmacht in Europe, the Emperor consented to the alliance. On 27 September 1940, ostensibly under Hirohito's leadership, Japan became a contracting partner of the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy forming the Axis Powers.

On 4 September 1941, the Japanese Cabinet met to consider war plans prepared by Imperial General Headquarters and decided that:

Our Empire, for the purpose of self-defence and self-preservation, will complete preparations for war ... [and is] ... resolved to go to war with the United States, Great Britain, and the French if necessary. Our Empire will concurrently take all possible diplomatic measures vis-à-vis the United States and Great Britain, and thereby endeavor to obtain our objectives ... In the event that there is no prospect of our demands being met by the first ten days of October through the diplomatic negotiations mentioned above, we will immediately decide to commence hostilities against the United States, Britain and the French.

The objectives to be obtained were clearly defined: a free hand to continue with the conquest of China and Southeast Asia, no increase in US or British military forces in the region, and cooperation by the West "in the acquisition of goods needed by our Empire."

On 5 September, Prime Minister Konoe informally submitted a draft of the decision to the Emperor, just one day in advance of the Imperial Conference at which it would be formally implemented. On this evening, the Emperor had a meeting with the chief of staff of the army, Sugiyama, chief of staff of the navy, Osami Nagano, and Prime Minister Konoe. The Emperor questioned Sugiyama about the chances of success of an open war with the Occident. As Sugiyama answered positively, the Emperor scolded him:

—At the time of the China Incident, the army told me that we could achieve peace immediately after dealing them one blow with three divisions ... but you can't still beat Chiang Kai-shek even today! Sugiyama, you were army minister at that time.
—China is a vast area with many ways in and ways out, and we met unexpectedly big difficulties ...
—You say the interior of China is huge; isn't the Pacific Ocean even bigger than China? ... Didn't I caution you each time about those matters? Sugiyama, are you lying to me?[22]

Chief of Naval General Staff Admiral Nagano, a former Navy Minister and vastly experienced, later told a trusted colleague, "I have never seen the Emperor reprimand us in such a manner, his face turning red and raising his voice."[23][24]

Emperor Hirohito riding Shirayuki during an Army inspection on 8 January 1938

Nevertheless, all speakers at the Imperial Conference were united in favor of war rather than diplomacy.[25] Baron Yoshimichi Hara, President of the Imperial Council and the Emperor's representative, then questioned them closely, producing replies to the effect that war would be considered only as a last resort from some, and silence from others.

At this point, the Emperor astonished all present by addressing the conference personally. In breaking the tradition of Imperial silence, he left his advisors "struck with awe" (Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe's description of the event). Hirohito stressed the need for peaceful resolution of international problems, expressed regret at his ministers' failure to respond to Baron Hara's probings, and recited a poem written by his grandfather, Emperor Meiji, which, he said, he had read "over and over again":

The seas of the four directions—
all are born of one womb:
why, then, do the wind and waves rise in discord?[26]

Recovering from their shock, the ministers hastened to express their profound wish to explore all possible peaceful avenues. The Emperor's presentation was in line with his practical role as leader of the State Shinto religion.

At this time, Army Imperial Headquarters was continually communicating with the Imperial household in detail about the military situation. On 8 October, Sugiyama signed a 47-page report to the Emperor (sōjōan) outlining in minute detail plans for the advance into Southeast Asia. During the third week of October, Sugiyama gave the Emperor a 51-page document, "Materials in Reply to the Throne," about the operational outlook for the war.[27]

As war preparations continued, Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe found himself increasingly isolated, and he resigned on 16 October. He justified himself to his chief cabinet secretary, Kenji Tomita, by stating:

Of course His Majesty is a pacifist, and there is no doubt he wished to avoid war. When I told him that to initiate war was a mistake, he agreed. But the next day, he would tell me: "You were worried about it yesterday, but you do not have to worry so much." Thus, gradually, he began to lean toward war. And the next time I met him, he leaned even more toward. In short, I felt the Emperor was telling me: my prime minister does not understand military matters, I know much more. In short, the Emperor had absorbed the view of the army and navy high commands.[28]

The army and the navy recommended the candidacy of Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni, one of the Emperor's uncles. According to the Shōwa "Monologue," written after the war, the Emperor then said that if the war were to begin while a member of the imperial house was prime minister, the imperial house would have to carry the responsibility and he was opposed to this.[29]

The Emperor as head of the Imperial General Headquarters on 29 April 1943

Instead, the Emperor chose the hard-line General Hideki Tōjō, who was known for his devotion to the imperial institution, and asked him to make a policy review of what had been sanctioned by the Imperial Conferences. On 2 November Tōjō, Sugiyama, and Nagano reported to the Emperor that the review of eleven points had been in vain. Emperor Hirohito gave his consent to the war and then asked: "Are you going to provide justification for the war?"[30] The decision for war against the United States was presented for approval to Hirohito by General Tōjō, Naval Minister Admiral Shigetarō Shimada, and Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenori Tōgō.[31]

On 3 November, Nagano explained in detail the plan of the attack on Pearl Harbor to the Emperor.[32] On 5 November Emperor Hirohito approved in imperial conference the operations plan for a war against the Occident and had many meetings with the military and Tōjō until the end of the month.[33] On 25 November Henry L. Stimson, United States Secretary of War, noted in his diary that he had discussed with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt the severe likelihood that Japan was about to launch a surprise attack and that the question had been "how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves."

On the following day, 26 November 1941, US Secretary of State Cordell Hull presented the Japanese ambassador with the Hull note, which as one of its conditions demanded the complete withdrawal of all Japanese troops from French Indochina and China. Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo said to his cabinet, "This is an ultimatum." On 1 December an Imperial Conference sanctioned the "War against the United States, United Kingdom and the Kingdom of the Netherlands."[34]

War: advance and retreat

On 8 December (7 December in Hawaii), 1941, in simultaneous attacks, Japanese forces struck at the Hong Kong Garrison, the US Fleet in Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines, and began the invasion of Malaya.

With the nation fully committed to the war, the Emperor took a keen interest in military progress and sought to boost morale. According to Akira Yamada and Akira Fujiwara, the Emperor made major interventions in some military operations. For example, he pressed Sugiyama four times, on 13 and 21 January and 9 and 26 February, to increase troop strength and launch an attack on Bataan. On 9 February 19 March, and 29 May, the Emperor ordered the Army Chief of staff to examine the possibilities for an attack on Chungking in China, which led to Operation Gogo.[35]

As the tide of war began to turn against Japan (around late 1942 and early 1943), the flow of information to the palace gradually began to bear less and less relation to reality, while others suggest that the Emperor worked closely with Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, continued to be well and accurately briefed by the military, and knew Japan's military position precisely right up to the point of surrender. The chief of staff of the General Affairs section of the Prime Minister's office, Shuichi Inada, remarked to Tōjō's private secretary, Sadao Akamatsu:

There has never been a cabinet in which the prime minister, and all the ministers, reported so often to the throne. In order to effect the essence of genuine direct imperial rule and to relieve the concerns of the Emperor, the ministers reported to the throne matters within the scope of their responsibilities as per the prime minister's directives ... In times of intense activities, typed drafts were presented to the Emperor with corrections in red. First draft, second draft, final draft and so forth, came as deliberations progressed one after the other and were sanctioned accordingly by the Emperor.[36]

The Emperor with his wife Empress Kōjun and their children on 7 December 1941

In the first six months of war, all the major engagements had been victories. Japanese advances were stopped in the summer of 1942 with the battle of Midway and the landing of the American forces on Guadalcanal and Tulagi in August. The emperor played an increasingly influential role in the war; in eleven major episodes he was deeply involved in supervising the actual conduct of war operations. Hirohito pressured the High Command to order an early attack on the Philippines in 1941–42, including the fortified Bataan peninsula. He secured the deployment of army air power in the Guadalcanal campaign. Following Japan's withdrawal from Guadalcanal he demanded a new offensive in New Guinea, which was duly carried out but failed badly. Unhappy with the navy's conduct of the war, he criticized its withdrawal from the central Solomon Islands and demanded naval battles against the Americans for the losses they had inflicted in the Aleutians. The battles were disasters. Finally, it was at his insistence that plans were drafted for the recapture of Saipan and, later, for an offensive in the Battle of Okinawa.[37] With the Army and Navy bitterly feuding, he settled disputes over the allocation of resources. He helped plan military offenses.[38]

The media, under tight government control, repeatedly portrayed him as lifting the popular morale even as the Japanese cities came under heavy air attack in 1944-45 and food and housing shortages mounted. Japanese retreats and defeats were celebrated by the media as successes that portended "Certain Victory."[39] Only gradually did it become apparent to the Japanese people that the situation was very grim due to growing shortages of food, medicine, and fuel as U.S submarines began wiping out Japanese shipping. Starting in mid 1944, American raids on the major cities of Japan made a mockery of the unending tales of victory. Later that year, with the downfall of Tojo's government, two other prime ministers were appointed to continue the war effort, Kuniaki Koiso and Kantarō Suzuki—each with the formal approval of the Emperor. Both were unsuccessful and Japan was nearing disaster.[40]


Emperor Hirohito on the battleship Musashi, 24 June 1943. This ship was sunk in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944.

In early 1945, in the wake of the losses in the Battle of Leyte, Emperor Hirohito began a series of individual meetings with senior government officials to consider the progress of the war. All but ex-Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe advised continuing the war. Konoe feared a communist revolution even more than defeat in war and urged a negotiated surrender. In February 1945, during the first private audience with the Emperor he had been allowed in three years,[41] Konoe advised Hirohito to begin negotiations to end the war. According to Grand Chamberlain Hisanori Fujita, the Emperor, still looking for a tennozan (a great victory) in order to provide a stronger bargaining position, firmly rejected Konoe's recommendation.[42]

With each passing week victory became less likely. In April, the Soviet Union issued notice that it would not renew its neutrality agreement. Japan's ally Germany surrendered in early May 1945. In June, the cabinet reassessed the war strategy, only to decide more firmly than ever on a fight to the last man. This strategy was officially affirmed at a brief Imperial Council meeting, at which, as was normal, the Emperor did not speak.

The following day, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Kōichi Kido prepared a draft document which summarized the hopeless military situation and proposed a negotiated settlement. Extremists in Japan were also calling for a death-before-dishonor mass suicide, modeled on the "47 Ronin" incident. By mid-June 1945, the cabinet had agreed to approach the Soviet Union to act as a mediator for a negotiated surrender but not before Japan's bargaining position had been improved by repulse of the anticipated Allied invasion of mainland Japan.

On 22 June, the Emperor met with his ministers saying, "I desire that concrete plans to end the war, unhampered by existing policy, be speedily studied and that efforts be made to implement them." The attempt to negotiate a peace via the Soviet Union came to nothing. There was always the threat that extremists would carry out a coup or foment other violence. On 26 July 1945, the Allies issued the Potsdam Declaration demanding unconditional surrender. The Japanese government council, the Big Six, considered that option and recommended to the Emperor that it be accepted only if one to four conditions were agreed upon, including a guarantee of the Emperor's continued position in Japanese society. The Emperor decided not to surrender.

That changed after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviet declaration of war. On 9 August, Emperor Hirohito told Kōichi Kido: "The Soviet Union has declared war and today began hostilities against us."[43] On 10 August, the cabinet drafted an "Imperial Rescript ending the War" following the Emperor's indications that the declaration did not compromise any demand which prejudiced his prerogatives as a sovereign ruler.

On 12 August 1945, the Emperor informed the imperial family of his decision to surrender. One of his uncles, Prince Yasuhiko Asaka, asked whether the war would be continued if the kokutai (national polity) could not be preserved. The Emperor simply replied "Of course."[44] On 14 August the Suzuki government notified the Allies that it had accepted the Potsdam Declaration.

On 15 August, a recording of the Emperor's surrender speech ("Gyokuon-hōsō", literally "Jewel Voice Broadcast") was broadcast over the radio (the first time the Emperor was heard on the radio by the Japanese people) announcing Japan's acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration. During the historic broadcast the Emperor stated: "Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization." The speech also noted that "the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage" and ordered the Japanese to "endure the unendurable." The speech, using formal, archaic Japanese, was not readily understood by many commoners. According to historian Richard Storry in A History of Modern Japan, the Emperor typically used "a form of language familiar only to the well-educated" and to the more traditional samurai families.[45]

A faction of the army opposed to the surrender attempted a coup d'état on the evening of 14 August, prior to the broadcast. They seized the Imperial Palace (the Kyūjō incident), but the physical recording of the emperor's speech was hidden and preserved overnight. The coup was crushed by the next morning, and the speech was broadcast.[46]

In his first ever press conference given in Tokyo in 1975, when he was asked what he thought of the bombing of Hiroshima, the Emperor answered: "It's very regrettable that nuclear bombs were dropped and I feel sorry for the citizens of Hiroshima but it couldn't be helped because that happened in wartime" (shikata ga nai, meaning "it cannot be helped").[47]

Accountability for Japanese war crimes

The issue of Emperor Hirohito's war responsibility is a controversial matter.[4] There is no consensus among scholars. During wartime the allies frequently depicted Hirohito to equate with Hitler and Mussolini as the three Axis dictators.[48] The apologist thesis, which argues that Hirohito had been a "powerless figurehead" without any implication in wartime policies, was the dominant postwar narrative until 1989.[49][50] After Hirohito's death, critical historians[51] say that Hirohito wielded more power than previously believed,[48][51][52] and he was actively involved in the decision to launch the war as well as in other political and military decisions before.[53] Moderates argue that Hirohito had some involvement, but his power was limited by cabinet members, ministers and other people of the military oligarchy.[54]

The critical thesis

Historians who follow this thesis believe Emperor Hirohito was directly responsible for the atrocities committed by the imperial forces in the Second Sino-Japanese War and in World War II. They feel that he, and some members of the imperial family such as his brother Prince Chichibu, his cousins the princes Takeda and Fushimi, and his uncles the princes Kan'in, Asaka, and Higashikuni, should have been tried for war crimes.[55][56]

The debate over Hirohito's responsibility for war crimes concerns how much real control the Emperor had over the Japanese military during the two wars. Officially, the imperial constitution, adopted under Emperor Meiji, gave full power to the Emperor. Article 4 prescribed that, "The Emperor is the head of the Empire, combining in Himself the rights of sovereignty, and exercises them, according to the provisions of the present Constitution," while according to article 6, "The Emperor gives sanction to laws and orders them to be promulgated and executed," and article 11, "The Emperor has the supreme command of the Army and the Navy." The Emperor was thus the leader of the Imperial General Headquarters.[57]

Poison gas weapons, such as phosgene, were produced by Unit 731 and authorized by specific orders given by Hirohito himself, transmitted by the chief of staff of the army. For example, Hirohito authorised the use of toxic gas 375 times during the Battle of Wuhan from August to October 1938.[4]

Historians such as Herbert Bix, Akira Fujiwara, Peter Wetzler, and Akira Yamada assert that the post-war view focusing on imperial conferences misses the importance of numerous "behind the chrysanthemum curtain" meetings where the real decisions were made between the Emperor, his chiefs of staff, and the cabinet. Historians such as Fujiwara[58] and Wetzler,[59] based on the primary sources and the monumental work of Shirō Hara,[e] have produced evidence suggesting that the Emperor worked through intermediaries to exercise a great deal of control over the military and was neither bellicose nor a pacifist but an opportunist who governed in a pluralistic decision-making process. American historian Herbert P. Bix argues that Emperor Hirohito might have been the prime mover of most of the events of the two wars.[56]

The view promoted by both the Japanese Imperial Palace and the American occupation forces immediately after World War II portrayed Emperor Hirohito as a powerless figurehead behaving strictly according to protocol while remaining at a distance from the decision-making processes. This view was endorsed by Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita in a speech on the day of Hirohito's death in which Takeshita asserted that the war "had broken out against [Hirohito's] wishes." Takeshita's statement provoked outrage in nations in East Asia and Commonwealth nations such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.[60] According to historian Fujiwara, "The thesis that the Emperor, as an organ of responsibility, could not reverse cabinet decision is a myth fabricated after the war."[61] Historian Yinan He agrees with Fujiwara, stating that the exoneration of the Emperor was embodied on a myth used to whitewash the complicity of many wartime political actors, including Hirohito.[50]

In Japan, debate over the Emperor's responsibility was taboo while he was still alive. After his death, however, debate began to surface over the extent of his involvement and thus his culpability.[60]

In the years immediately after Hirohito's death, the debate in Japan was fierce. Susan Chira reported, "Scholars who have spoken out against the late Emperor have received threatening phone calls from Japan's extremist right wing."[60] One example of actual violence occurred in 1990 when the mayor of Nagasaki, Hitoshi Motoshima, was shot and critically wounded by a member of the ultranationalist group, Seikijuku. A year before, in 1989, Motoshima had broken what was characterized as "one of [Japan's] most sensitive taboos" by asserting that Emperor Hirohito bore responsibility for World War II.[62]

Kentarō Awaya argues that post-war Japanese public opinion supporting protection of the Emperor was influenced by U.S. propaganda promoting the view that the Emperor together with the Japanese people had been fooled by the military.[63]

Regarding Hirohito's exemption from trial before the International Military Tribunal of the Far East, opinions were not unanimous. Sir William Webb, the president of the tribunal, declared: "This immunity of the Emperor is contrasted with the part he played in launching the war in the Pacific, is, I think, a matter which the tribunal should take into consideration in imposing the sentences."[64]

An account from the Vice Interior Minister in 1941, Michio Yuzawa, asserts that Hirohito was "at ease" with the attack on Pearl Harbor "once he had made a decision."[65]

Vice Interior Minister Yuzawa's account on Hirohito's role in Pearl Harbor raid

In late July 2018, the bookseller Takeo Hatano, an acquaintance of the descendants of Michio Yuzawa (Japanese Vice Interior Minister in 1941), released to Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper a memo by Yuzawa that Hatano had kept for nine years since he received it from Yuzawa's family. The bookseller said: "It took me nine years to come forward, as I was afraid of a backlash. But now I hope the memo would help us figure out what really happened during the war, in which 3.1 million people were killed."[65]

Takahisa Furukawa, expert on wartime history from Nihon University, confirmed the authenticity of the memo, calling it "the first look at the thinking of Emperor Hirohito and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo on the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor."[65]

In this document, Yuzawa details a conversation he had with Tojo a few hours before the attack. The Vice Minister quotes Tojo saying:

"The Emperor seemed at ease and unshakable once he had made a decision."[65]

"If His Majesty had any regret over negotiations with Britain and the U.S., he would have looked somewhat grim. There was no such indication, which must be a result of his determination. I'm completely relieved. Given the current conditions, I could say we have practically won already."[65]

Historian Furukawa concluded from Yuzawa's memo:

"Tojo is a bureaucrat who was incapable of making own decisions, so he turned to the Emperor as his supervisor. That's why he had to report everything for the Emperor to decide. If the Emperor didn't say no, then he would proceed."[65]

Shinobu Kobayashi's diary

In August 2018, the diary of Shinobu Kobayashi, the Emperor's chamberlain between 1974 and 2000, was released.[66] This diary contains numerous quotes from Hirohito (see below).

Jennifer Lind, associate professor of government at Darthmouth College and specialist in Japanese war memory, concluded from these quotes:

"Over the years, these different pieces of evidence have trickled out and historians have amassed this picture of culpability and how he was reflecting on that."[67]

"This is another piece of the puzzle that very much confirms that the picture that was taking place before, which is that he was extremely culpable, and after the war he was devastated about this."[67]

Similarly, historian Takahisa Furukawa concluded:

"(The Emperor) has long assumed responsibility for the war; as he got older, that feeling became stronger."[68]

The moderate thesis

After the death of Emperor Shōwa, on 14 February 1989 (Heisei 1), the Cabinet Committee of the House of Councilors at the time (Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, Cabinet of Takeshita), Secretary-General of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, Mimura Osamu (味村治) said, "There are no responsibilities for war under domestic law or international law due to the two points of no response and no prosecution in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East according to Article 3 of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan."

It is also argued that the Emperor did not defy the military oligarchy that got Japan into World War II until the first atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima. This is supported by Hirohito's personal statements during interviews. It is also pointed out that the Emperors had for millennia been a great symbolic authority, but had little political power. Thus Hirohito had little reason to defy the military oligarchy. The Emperor could not defy cabinet's decision to start World War II and he was not trained or accustomed to do so. Hirohito said he only received reports about military operations after the military commanders made detailed decisions. Hirohito stated that he only made his own decisions twice: for the February 26 Incident and the end of World War II.

The declassified January 1989 British government assessment of Hirohito describes him as "too weak to alter the course of events" and Hirohito was "powerless" and comparisons with Hitler are "ridiculously wide off the mark." Hirohito's power was limited by ministers and the military and if he asserted his views too much he would have been replaced by another member of the royal family.[54]

There are scholars who support that Hirohito was exempted from the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. For example Indian jurist Radhabinod Pal opposed the International Military Tribunal and made a 1,235-page judgment.[69] He found the entire prosecution case to be weak regarding the conspiracy to commit an act of aggressive war with brutalization and subjugation of conquered nations. Pal said there is "no evidence, testimonial or circumstantial, concomitant, prospectant, restrospectant, that would in any way lead to the inference that the government in any way permitted the commission of such offenses,".[70] He added that conspiracy to wage aggressive war was not illegal in 1937, or at any point since.[70] Pal supported the acquittal of all of the defendants. He considered the Japanese military operations as justified, because Chiang Kai-shek supported the boycott of trade operations by the Western Powers, particularly the United States boycott of oil exports to Japan. Pal argued the attacks on neighboring territories were justified to protect the Japanese Empire from an aggressive environment, especially the Soviet Union. He considered that to be self-defense operations which are not criminal. Pal said "the real culprits are not before us" and concluded that "only a lost war is an international crime".

The Emperor's own statements
8 September 1975 TV interview with NBC, USA[71]
Reporter: "How far has your Majesty been involved in Japan's decision to end the war in 1945? What was the motivation for your launch?"
Emperor: "Originally, this should be done by the Cabinet. I heard the results, but at the last meeting I asked for a decision. I decided to end the war on my own. (...) I thought that the continuation of the war would only bring more misery to the people."
Interview with Newsweek, USA, 20 September 1975[72]
Reporter: "(Abbreviation) How do you answer those who claim that your Majesty was also involved in the decision-making process that led Japan to start the war?"
Emperor: "(Omission) At the start of the war, a cabinet decision was made, and I could not reverse that decision. We believe this is consistent with the provisions of the Imperial Constitution."
22 September 1975-Press conference with Foreign Correspondents[73]
Reporter: "How long before the attack on Pearl Harbor did your Majesty know about the attack plan? And did you approve the plan?"
Emperor: "It is true that I had received information on military operations in advance. However, I only received those reports after the military commanders made detailed decisions. Regarding issues of political character and military command, I believe that I acted in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution."
On 31 October 1975, a press conference was held immediately after returning to the United States after visiting Japan.[74][75]
Question: "Your majesty, at your White House banquet you said, 'I deeply deplore that unfortunate war.' (See also Emperor Shōwa's Theory of War Responsibility.) Does your majesty feel responsibility for the war itself, including the opening of hostilities? Also, what does your majesty think about so-called war responsibility?" (The Times reporter)
Emperor: "I can't answer that kind of question because I haven't thoroughly studied the literature in this field, and so don't really appreciate the nuances of your words."
Question: "How did you understand that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the war?" (RCC Broadcasting Reporter)
Emperor: "I am sorry that the atomic bomb was dropped, but because of this war, I feel sorry for the citizens of Hiroshima, but I think it is unavoidable."
17 April 1981 Press conference with the presidents of the press[76]
Reporter: "What was the most enjoyable of your memories of eighty years?"
Emperor: "Since I saw the constitutional politics of Britain as the Crown Prince, I felt strongly that I must adhere to the constitutional politics. But I was too particular about it to prevent the war. I made my own decisions twice (February 26 Incident and the end of World War II)."

British government assessment of Hirohito

A January 1989 declassified British government assessment of Hirohito said the Emperor was "uneasy with Japan's drift to war in the 1930s and 1940s but was too weak to alter the course of events." The dispatch by John Whitehead, former ambassador of the United Kingdom to Japan, to Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe was declassified on Thursday 20 July 2017 at the National Archives in London. Britain's ambassador to Japan John Whitehead stated in 1989:[54]

"By personality and temperament, Hirohito was ill-suited to the role assigned to him by destiny. The successors of the men who had led the Meiji Restoration yearned for a charismatic warrior king. Instead, they were given an introspective prince who grew up to be more at home in the science laboratory than on the military parade ground. But in his early years, every effort was made to cast him in a different mould."[54]

"A man of stronger personality than Hirohito might have tried more strenuously to check the growing influence of the military in Japanese politics and the drift of Japan toward war with the western powers." "The contemporary diary evidence suggests that Hirohito was uncomfortable with the direction of Japanese policy." "The consensus of those who have studied the documents of the period is that Hirohito was consistent in attempting to use his personal influence to induce caution and to moderate and even obstruct the growing impetus toward war."[54]

Whitehead concludes that ultimately Hirohito was "powerless" and comparisons with Hitler are "ridiculously wide off the mark." If Hirohito acted too insistently with his views he could have been isolated or replaced with a more pliant member of the royal family. The pre-war Meiji Constitution defined the emperor as "sacred" and all-powerful, but according to Whitehead, Hirohito's power was limited by ministers and the military. Whitehead explained after World War II that Hirohito's humility was fundamental for the Japanese people to accept the new 1947 constitution and allied occupation.[54]

Hirohito's quotes in chamberlain Kobayashi's diary

Shinobu Kobayashi was the Emperor's chamberlain from April 1974 until June 2000, when Empress Kōjun died. Kobayashi kept a diary with near-daily remarks of Hirohito for 26 years. It was made public on Wednesday 22 August 2018. The rare diary was borrowed from Kobayashi's family by Kyodo News and analyzed by Kyodo News with writer and history expert of the Shōwa era Kazutoshi Hando and nonfiction writer Masayasu Hosaka.[66] Here are some quotes from the diary:

On 27 May 1980, the Emperor wanted to express his regret about the Sino-Japanese war to former Chinese Premier Hua Guofeng who visited at the time, but was stopped by senior members of the Imperial Household Agency due to fear of backlash from far right groups.[66]

On 7 April 1987, two years before his death, this diary entry shows the Emperor was haunted by perceived discussions about World War 2 responsibility and lost the will to live.[66] Prince Takamatsu died in February 1987.

There is no point in living a longer life by reducing my workload. It would only increase my chances of seeing or hearing things that are agonizing,[66]

I have experienced the deaths of my brother and relatives and have been told about my war responsibility,[66]

Kobayashi tried to soothe the Emperor by saying:

"Only a few people talk about (your) war responsibility." "Given how the country has developed today from postwar rebuilding, it is only a page in history. You do not have to worry,"[66]

Senior chamberlain, Ryogo Urabe's diary entry of the same day supports the remarks stating that Kobayashi "tried to soothe" the Emperor, when he said "there is nothing good in living long".[66]

Hirohito World War II articles: 108