The 124th Emperor of Japan, Emperor Hirohito reigned from December 25, 1926 until his death in 1989. Born Michinomiya Hirohito on April 29, 1901, Emperor Hirohito was only 15 years old when he was crowned a prince. He was the first crown prince to travel abroad to study in Europe. When he returned to Japan in 1921, Crown Prince Hirohito was named regent when his father, Emperor Taisho, became chronically ill in 1921. He then became the acting ruler of Japan because his father’s health was failing.
As regent, Crown Prince Hirohito automatically became the new emperor upon his father’s death. Emperor Hirohito was his official name while serving as emperor of Japan. As with tradition, Emperor Hirohito was renamed after his death. The name Emperor Showa was given because it was the name of the era of Emperor Hirohito’s reign. Showa was a name Emperor Hirohito had chosen for the time he reigned which can be roughly translated to mean “enlightened harmony”.
Emperor Showa married Princess Nagako in January 26, 1924. Princess Nagako was a distant cousin of Emperor Showa which was the tradition. They had seven children together, two boys and five girls. Their oldest son, Akihito, was eventually crowned a prince. Later, Crown Prince Akihiot broke a 1,500 year tradition of marrying within the family by marrying a commoner.
Emperor Hirohito, or Emperor Showa, ruled Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War which led into World War 2 (WW2). He was considered a controversial leader during this time period. Japan was already considered one of the great powers when Emperor Showa, started his reign. It was one of only four permanent members of the League of Nations and was recognized as the ninth largest economy in the world. Following WWII, many leaders were prosecuted for war crimes. Emperor Showa was not prosecuted and his involvement remains controversial still today.
Under his reign, Emperor Showa became the commander-in-chief of the Japanese armed forces. He was also considered the highest spiritual authority as emperor. Instead of being charged with war crimes, MacArthur made a deal with Emperor Showa to implement a new Japanese constitution. This agreement also required the denouncement of the practice of imperial divinity.
Following the end of WWII, the United States continued to occupy Japan until 1952. During this occupation, the United States worked to transform Japan so that the sovereignty would lay with the people through a constitutional monarchy instead of the emperor. When the American occupation withdrew, Japan experienced a rapid economic growth period which Emperor Showa reigned over. The 64 year reign of Emperor Showa was the longest imperial reign in the history of Japan.
On January 7, 1989, Emperor Showa died of cancer of the small intestine at the Aoyama Palace in Tokyo. His funeral was an international event attended by such leaders as the President of the United States George H. W. Bush and the French President Francois Mitterrand. He was buried in the Imperial Mausoleum in Hachioji. He was succeeded by his son Akihito. Emperor Showa had remained an active figure in Japan up until his death.