April 29th is Showa Day in Japan. Until his death in 1989, the holiday celebrated the birth of Hirohito, the Showa emperor. Surprisingly, when a foreigner says anything about Emperor Hirohito, he usually draws a blank stare. Though the Japanese authorities introduced him to the world as Emperor Hirohito, his subjects never used his name. Even when I make it clear just who I am talking about, they usually don’t seem to know much about him.
This year, on the day that celebrate Hirohito and his era, I tracked down a site that had a biography of the emperor written for American junior high school kids. I re-wrote the piece to better suit the Japanese and prepared a follow up quiz dthat I hope will help prepare them for future inquisitive foreigners. Here is the result.
1 Hirohito was born on April 29th, 1901 at the royal palace in Tokyo. His grandfather was the emperor and his father was the crown prince.
2 When he was a child he was called Prince Michi. Tradition said he could not live with his parents, and he had to be raised by another royal family. When he was 7, he was enrolled at Gakushuin, where he studied with other children of nobility.
3 When he was 11, his grandfather died, his father became the emperor and Hirohito the crown prince.
4 In 1921, Hirohito took a trip to Europe. He was the first crown prince to travel abroad. 5 When he came back from Europe his father was sick. Hirohito was made the prince regent and had to take over his father’s duties. When his father died four years later, in 1926, Hirohito became the emperor.
6 Once he became emperor, he was no longer called Hirohito. He was referred to as His Majesty the Emperor. His reign was called The Showa Era, which means “peace and enlightenment.” After his death he is called The Showa emperor.
7 The role of emperor is very complicated. He was a kind of god with total power. But actually, he was not supposed to manage the government or get involved in politics.
8 Many of his advisors were military men who wanted Japan to expand throughout East Asia just as England had spread its power across the globe. Historians still argue whether or not Hirohito agreed with their expansionist policies.
9 One of the first major events during his reign was the invasion of Manchuria in northeast China. Much like England, Japan was a powerful but small island nation. They needed land and natural resources.
10 As early as 1894, Japan started moving into neighboring countries economically and militarily. In 1937, they launched a full-scale invasion of China proper.
11 In 1940, Japan joined fascist Germany and Italy to form the Axis Powers. Their enemies, the U.S., the U.K., China, etc., were called the Allied Powers.
12 The Allied Powers said that if Japan didn’t pull out of China, they would stop all shipments to Japan of oil, food, everything. But, instead of leaving China, in December, 1941, Japan attacked Hawaii and several countries in South East Asia.
13 Japan’s invasions went well for the first six months. But by early 1945, Japanese forces had been pushed back to Japan. In March, 1945, American B-29 bombers destroyed most of Tokyo but Hirohito and his advisors refused to surrender.
14 In August the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese were killed in all three bombings.
15 Hirohito finally announced the surrender to the Japanese people over the radio on August 15th, 1945. It was the first time he had addressed the Japanese people and the first time the public had heard their leader’s voice.
16 Many Japanese leaders were tried for war crimes. Some were executed for their treatment and torture of prisoners and civilians.
17 Many Allied leaders wanted Hirohito punished, but U.S. General Douglas MacArthur convinced them to let Hirohito remain as a figurehead to help keep peace and allow Japan to recover.
18 Hirohito remained emperor for more than 43 years after the war. He was Japan’s longest reigning emperor. He saw Japan become the second richest country in the world before he died from cancer on January 7th, 1989.
Interesting Facts about Hirohito
• Legend says he was the 124th Emperor.
• He married Princess Nagako in 1924. They had five daughters and two sons.
• He studied marine biology and published several scientific papers on the subject.
• He rode a white horse named Shirayuki.
• His son Akihito is now the reigning emperor.