Childhood & Early Life
Hirohito was born on April 29, 1901, in Tōgū Palace, Aoyama, Empire of Japan, to Crown Prince Yoshihito and Crown Princess Sadako.
He was removed from the court when he was just 70 days old and sent to be raised by the family of former vice-admiral Count Kawamura Sumiyoshi. Following Sumiyoshi’s death, he returned to the court at the age of three.
In 1908, he was enrolled at ‘Gakushuin Peers’ School’ and later attended a special institute from 1914 to 1921. Meanwhile, he was declared the crown prince and heir apparent in 1916.
In 1921, he became the first Japanese crown prince to travel abroad, embarking a six-month tour to Europe, visiting the UK, France, Netherlands, Italy, and Belgium.
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Accession & Reign
Upon his return from Europe on November 1921, he was made the Regent of Japan and took over the duties of the emperor, due to his father’s chronic illness.
He was crowned as the Japanese emperor following his father’s death in 1926. His coronation brought about a new reign called ‘Showa’ (Enlightened Peace), while he formally came to be known as ‘Showa Tenno.’
He was formally crowned at the enthronement ceremony on November 1928.
At the time of his coronation, Japan was struggling with financial crisis, while the influence of military was on the rise.
The increasing Japanese conflicts with China led to the invasion of Manchuria in 1931. The invasion was achieved by exploding a railway station and bringing it under Japanese control. Subsequently, a puppet state was established in Manchuria.
He survived an assassination attempt in 1932 in Tokyo. The attempt was made by a Korean independence activist named Lee Bong-chang.
The same year, Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi was killed which marked the end of civilian control over the military.
The assassination of the prime minister was followed by an attempted military coup on February 1936, commonly known as 'the February 26 incident.' It resulted in the killing of a number of high government and army officials.
The continuous attacks and seizure of many Chinese areas by the Japanese army led to the ‘Second Sino-Japanese War’ in 1937. The war resulted in the killing of millions of civilians and prisoners of war.
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On September 1940, he entered into an agreement with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy through the ‘Tripartite Pact,’ following which he sent his troops to capture French Indochina the same month.
When his government decided to battle the United States in 1941, he didn’t oppose. As a result, the Japanese forces bombarded the US fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and destroyed 18 ships, killing around 2,500 men.
Soon after, he ordered the bombardment of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Japan succeeded in occupying Dutch East Indies, New Guinea, Philippines, British Singapore, and other areas in Southeast Asia and the Pacific until June 1942.
With the ‘Battle of Midway’ on June 1942, the war tilted in favor of the Americans as they landed at Guadalcanal and Tulagi.
Though he made several efforts to stop the American forces from furthering their territory, it was clear by mid-1944 that the Japanese were nearing defeat.
Fearing that his subjects would be imprisoned, he encouraged them to commit suicide during the ‘Battle of Saipan.’ Obeying his command, nearly 1,000 Japanese jumped off Suicide Cliff and Banzai Cliff.
On August 1945, the United States of America dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The emperor announced the capitulation of Japanese military forces through a radio broadcast on August 15, 1945.
In 1946, he addressed his subjects through a second broadcast, announcing his repudiation of imperial divinity. He also took measures to change his public image since he was looked upon as a war criminal with people demanding his trial.
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He then started focusing on his childhood love for marine biology, authoring several books on the subject.
Personal Life & Legacy
On January 1924, he got married to his distant royal cousin, Princess Nagako Kuni (later known as Empress Kojun), the eldest daughter of Prince Kuniyoshi Kuni.
The couple had seven children – daughter Shigeko (1925), daughter Sachiko (1927), daughter Kazuko (1929), daughter Atsuko (1931), son Akihito (1933), son Masahito (1935), and daughter Takako (1939).
He was operated successfully on his pancreas for digestive issues on September 1987, when he was diagnosed with duodenal cancer. After the surgery, he showed positive signs of recovery.
His health started deteriorating due to internal bleeding on September 1988, and he breathed his last on January 7, 1989, at the age of 87.
His funeral, which took place on February 24, 1989, was attended by prominent world leaders, following which his mortal remains were buried beside his father’s grave in the royal mausoleum at Hachioji.
He was succeeded by his son Akihito who served as the emperor from November 1990 to April 2019. Akihito was succeeded by his son Naruhito on 1 May 2019.