Emperor Hirohito: Family, Reign, World War II, & Death

Emperor Hirohito – 124th Emperor of Japan

Emperor Hirohito was a preeminent figure in the political history of Japan, ruling the nation from December 25, 1926, until his death at age 87, on January 7, 1989. He was the 124th Emperor of Japan and, as of 2021, the longest-serving monarch in the history of Japan.

The Japanese people revered him as a deity throughout his reign. This was due to a widely held conviction in the widespread Japanese Shinto and Buddhist faith. In both religions, all monarchs were regarded as gods, and in the Shinto religion, monarchs were the descendants of the “kami,” the supreme gods and powers of the faith.

As a result, many of his subjects considered him infallible in all his judgments. Additionally, the Emperor’s divinity was the core component of the central concept of his governance, known as the “Kodo,” or the “imperial way.” The Kodo was an ideology that fostered imperialist growth and pushed for the subordination of all citizens to the Emperor and state.

Hirohito’s reign arguably saw the most historical events in the history of Japan. As a result, he was primarily known as the Japanese Emperor who oversaw the “Invasion of China,” the “Attack on Pearl Harbor,” the “bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima,” and eventually, “Japan’s surrender to the Allies.”

However, although Hirohito later claimed he was a constitutional monarch with almost no power, many academics believe he was actively involved in the country’s war effort. Following Japan’s capitulation in 1945, the emperor was  reduced to a political figurehead.

Early Years, Family & Regency:

Birth and Early Childhood

Hirohito was born in the confines of Tokyo’s “Aoyama Palace” on April 29, 1901. He was the first male son of Crown Prince Yoshihito (who later became Emperor Taisho) and Crown Princess Sadako (who later became Empress Teimei). He was the grandson of the most revered Japanese monarch Emperor Meji and his concubine Yanagihara Naruko. Hirohito was given the title “Prince Michi” during his childhood.

According to Japanese custom, members of the imperial family were not nurtured by their parents. Consequently, when he was still an infant, he was sent to the house of Count Kawamura Sumiyoshi, an officer in the imperial navy. Sumiyoshi’s wife was a close relative of the well-known Saigo Takamori, popularly referred to as the “Last Samurai” of Japan’s ancient order.

Unfortunately, the Count passed away after a few years of Hirohito’s stay in his house, and he was subsequently returned to the royal court. This was the start of the future Emperor’s mostly nomadic lifestyle, which saw him reside in several different homes during his early years.

Hirochito’s grandfather – Emperor Meji

The most influential figure of the imperial family throughout Hirohito’s formative years was undoubtedly his grandfather, Emperor Meji. He was Japan’s first monarch and served as the 122nd Emperor of Japan from 1867, when he ascended to the throne as a teenager, until his passing in 1912. The level of modernization and development under Meji’s reign (Meji era) was widely considered the fastest and most impressive in the country’s history.

Hirochito’s Father – Emperor Taisho

Hirohito’s father, Emperor Taisho, ruled Japan from July 30, 1912, until December 26, 1926. He ascended the throne shortly after the commencement of the First World War, and the war could only serve as a temporary diversion from the problems that arose with his reign. Unfortunately, within months of his accession to the throne, he was found to be mentally unstable.

At best, Emperor Taisho was an extremely eccentric person; at worst, he was unstable and afflicted by various mental disorders. For example, in 1913, while addressing the Diet (Imperial Parliament), he interrupted his speech to roll the paper on which his text was written into a crude spyglass and then peeked through the paper looking at the puzzled parliamentarians.

Taisho’s mental health worsened over the next few years. By the late 1910s, after the First World War had ended, he was largely restricted from appearing at various public events.

Education and Service in the Military

Hirohito was eleven years old when long-reigning Emperor Meiji passed away. His father, Taisho, acceded to the throne as Japan’s 123rd Emperor, and Hirohito was made heir apparent. He was later officially commissioned as an ensign in the imperial navy and a second lieutenant in the Imperial army.

Additionally, he received the Order of the Chrysanthemum’s Grand Cordon. In 1914, he was elevated to the positions of lieutenant and sub-lieutenant in the army and navy, respectively. He later received promotions to captain in the army and lieutenant in the navy in 1916. Then in 1920, he became a Major and Commander in the imperial army and navy.

Hirohito was educated at Gakushuin Peers’ School from 1908 to 1914 and then at a special institute called Tōgū-gogakumonsho from 1914 to 1921. He probably spent time learning two or three languages, likely French, Chinese, and German. He was extensively exposed to English later in life, but there is isn’t much information about whether he spoke the language fluently.

Crown Prince and Official Trips Abroad

On November 2, 1916, he was formally proclaimed crown prince and heir apparent. Between March 3rd and September 3rd, 1921, Crown Prince Hirohito made various official visits to the UK, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Vatican City, and Belgium.

It was the first time that a Crown Prince of Japan visited Western Europe. His travels were widely captured in newspapers at the time. He used the Japanese battleship “Katori” for the journey, departing from Yokohama and sailing through Hong Kong, Naha, Singapore, Suez, Cairo, Colombo, and Gibraltar. The ship reached Portsmouth, UK, on May 9, 1921, two months after he first sailed. On that same day, he traveled to London, where he was welcomed as a member of the “Anglo-Japanese Alliance” and had meetings with King George V and David Lloyd George (Prime Minister). Later in the evening, he attended a banquet at Buckingham Palace.

He visited Prince Edward (later called Edward VIII) the next day at Windsor Castle. While in London, he toured various landmark sites, including the British Museum, the Tower of London, Lloyd’s Marine Insurance, the Naval War College, Army University, the Bank of England, and Oxford University.

He also loved watching performances at the Delhi Theatre and the New Oxford Theatre. While in the UK, he received an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University and a law doctorate from the University of Edinburgh. John Stewart-Murray (8th Duke of Atholl) also hosted the Prince in his home for three days.

Hirohito later met with King Vittorio Emanuele III and other important dignitaries in Italy, attended various state dinners across Europe, and later visited many historical sites, such as the brutal battlegrounds of World War I.


After returning to Japan from his numerous journeys, Hirohito took up more responsibility in the administration of the empire as his father’s health deteriorated. He was made Regent of Japan (Sessh) on November 25, 1921. By 1925, he had risen to the Navy Captain and Army Colonel ranks.

During his regency (November 25, 1921 – December 5, 1926), there were numerous historical events, including the signing of the Four-Power Treaty on December 13, 1921, by Japan, USA, France, and Britain, to preserve the status quo in Pacific territories.

In addition, Britain and Japan ended the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. In the same year, the Washington Naval Treaty was signed (on February 6, 1922), Japan withdrew its forces from the “Siberian Intervention” (on August 28, 1922).

There was also the unfortunate Great Kanto earthquake that struck Tokyo on September 1, 1923. Then on December 27, 1923, 24-year-old Daisuke Namba made an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hirohito in the Toranomon Incident.

Marriage & Children

Emperor Hirohito with wife Princess Nagako and their children.

On January 26, 1924, he wedded his distant cousin Princess Nagako Kuni, who was the first daughter of Prince Kuniyoshi Kuni. Their marriage produced five daughters and two sons: Prince Akihito, Shigeko Higashikuni, Prince Masahito Hitachi-nomiya, Princess Sachiko Hisa-nomiya, Atsuko Ikeda, Takako Shimazu, and Kazuko Takatsukasa.

Prince Akihito, the first of the two sons, eventually succeeded Hirohito as Japan’s 125th Emperor, establishing a direct line of four generations of Japanese emperors between 1867 and the early 21st century.

Ascension to the throne

On December 5, 1926, Emperor Taisho died from heart complications and pneumonia at age 47. Hirochito ascended the throne as the 124th Emperor of Japan on December 25, 1926.

According to reports, the Crown Prince was given the succession (senso). They declared the beginning of the “Showa era” (Enlightened Peace) and the end of the “Taisho era.”

Following Japanese tradition, the new Emperor was never addressed by his real name but rather referred to as “His Majesty the Emperor.” However, his name was always formally written as “The Reigning Emperor.”

His ascension was officially confirmed in the ceremonies (sokui) in November 1928. The “sokui” comprised the coronation and enthronement events (Showa no tairei-Shiki), which were public confirmation meetings used to signify that the Imperial Majesty possessed the “Three Sacred Treasures” also known as the “Japanese Imperial Regalia.”

Early Reign & Conflict with China

Upon his accession, he was faced with numerous political changes and challenges. Unfortunately, Japan’s accelerated industrialization and expansion resulted in a sizable national debt, and by the 1920s, the nation was struggling economically.

The dire economic situation was exacerbated by the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. These economic difficulties spiraled into one of the largest financial crises in Japan’s history, leading to the collapse of dozens of banks and the overthrow of Wakatsuki Reijiro, the government’s prime minister at the time.

Furthermore, other domestic policy issues, most notably the calls for major electoral reforms, which would extend the eligibility of voters to women and the poor in society, were one of the issues he had to tackle.

As a result, by the early 1930s, Japan appeared externally as a fully-fledged democratic country, although internally, the nation was drifting towards an aggressive system of governance. Most political offices were held by top navy and military officers. Consequently, Japan’s government on the global stage appeared aggressive and made increasingly hostile actions.

Indeed, the February 26 Incident, when military members staged an unsuccessful coup d’état in 1936, was a glaring example of Japan’s increasing movement toward military rule.

Hirohito and the Empire of Japan fabricated a diplomatic issue (Mukden incident) with China in September 1931, which in hindsight, appeared to have been a convenient pretext for starting a conflict with the nation. The conflict saw over ten thousand Japanese soldiers invade the region of Manchuria in what is now termed the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.

At the climax of the conflict in February 1932, Japan created a puppet state in the region, which they named Manchukuo. They then installed the young Puyi as emperor of the puppet state. The Japanese forces occupied Manchuria until August 1945. Although they claimed the conflict was in good faith and engaged in it to free the native Manchu people from China’s oppression, the rest of the world was not convinced.

In 1936, the International Olympic Committee chose Tokyo to host the 1940 Olympics, preferring the city’s bid to proposals from Rome, Barcelona, and many other cities. It was the first time the Committee chose a city outside the USA or Central and Western Europe. Unfortunately, the Committee chose Helsinki as the new location for the Olympics, citing Japan’s invasion of China as a deterrent.

Hirohito’s Japan was subsequently removed from the League of Nations. The Empire faced high confrontation from the allied powers (France, the USA, and Britain). It is impossible to overstate Hirohito’s role in the conflict; for example, he was a leading figure in the Germ Warfare—what we would now refer to as biological warfare—that the Japanese government waged in his name against the Manchurian people.

The invasion of Manchuria and many other aspects of his rule during the ensuing fifteen years reflected very poorly on Hirohito. He found himself in charge of a Japanese state dominated by the “Konoha” or “Imperial Way Faction,” a political group that had emerged amid the 1920s financial crises. The group was in opposition to the perceived liberalization of the Japanese community and politics. Hirohito and Baron Sadao Araki, a Japanese military officer, had a significant leadership role in this group. Under their leadership, during the 1930s, an expansionist mentality and an aggressive worldview gradually began to dominate Japan’s political system.

However, Japan’s most significant military and political expansion act against China came in July 1937, in what is widely known as the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. The Marco Polo incident began with a minor exchange of fire between China’s nationalist forces and Japanese forces at Peking. Hirohito’s government took advantage of the situation and launched a broader war on China.

The war was fought on two fronts; thus, Japan fought against Chinese Communists and Chinese Nationalists. By the war’s end in 1937, many Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Nanjing, and Beijing, had fallen to Emperor Hirohito’s control. The “Marco Polo Bridge Incident” also led to theSino-Japanese War, which involved the Nanjing Massacre. The massacre, which led to the killing of about 300,000 Chinese, was of the bloodiest attacks on the nation. Although Hirohito did not support the invasion’s most horrific elements, he did not punish those responsible—possibly out of concern that the military would force him to resign.

Emperor Hirohito on board Japanese battleship, Musashi.

Further, while much of the attacks on China could be linked to rogue elements within Japan’s military, many studies have argued that Hirohito was the mastermind behind the events. Additionally, they referred to the allegations that Hirohito emphasized classifying the attacks on China in the late 1930s as an “incident” instead of a “war.”

It was also alleged that the Emperor explicitly approved the usage of chemical weapons, including poisonous gas, which the League of Nations prohibited due to the widespread use of these heinous weapons during the First World War.

While there is no denying that he played an important role in Japan’s governance during the attacks, it is difficult to ascertain how he contributed to the daily formulation of policies because he did not routinely sign documents and other written records.

There is no denying the fact that as emperor, Hirohito had the last say in the policies that were put out, and there is little doubt that he was not largely responsible for Japan’s war and attacks in the 1930s and 1940s.

In many respects, the Second Sino-Japanese War was the presumptive beginning of the Second World War.

World War II

Even though Japan’s militarism in eastern Asia had increased since its conquest of Manchuria in 1931, Hirohito and his Empire delayed its entry into the Second World War.

After Nazi Germany’s conquest of France in 1940, the Japanese Empire began to drift closer to Italy and the powers of Nazi Germany, signing the “Tripartite Pact” on September 27, 1940. This decision formally brought the Empire into the Second World War. It subsequently affirmed its expansionism after the military incursion into the southeastern regions of Asia and French Indochina.

As a result, the United States and its allies began growing wary of Japan. In 1940, there was massive tension between the U.S. and Hirohito’s nation, as both countries strived for dominance in the Pacific. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries for example, the United States made significant advances into the western parts of the Pacific, occupying areas such as the Philippines, Wake Island, and Guam.

Therefore, although it was initially debatable whether the USA would enter the Second World War, a battle for dominance of the Pacific between the US and Hirohito’s Japan seemed inevitable.

Furthermore, the US government provided much logistical support to the Allied movement. Notably, it imposed an oil embargo on the Empire of Japan for its military actions and conquest in the South Pacific and East Asia. In response to the oil embargo, Hirohito’s government gradually began to incline to the idea of a pre-emptive attack against the US to gain an advantage in an increasingly inevitable battle.

Two of the highest military officers in Hirohito’s administration, Admiral Osami Nagano and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, designed plans to launch attacks against the US and Allied forces. The goal was to destroy the US’s naval base at “Pearl Harbor Bay” in the territory of Hawaii. In spite of some members of Hirohito’s government raising concerns about the future consequences of such an attack, the war hawks in Japan prevailed.

With the approval of Hirohito, the decision of a pre-emptive strike was eventually agreed. The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941. However, since the Hirohito-led Empire did not declare war against the US, the attack caught the country unprepared. In what then-U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt described as a “day that would live infamy”, Imperial Japan’s attack on the harbor resulted in the destruction of 8 US warships, over 36 destroyer-class ships, cruisers, and four submarines and other smaller vessels. Also, over 180 US ships were sunk, and over 1000 Americans were wounded, and more than 2400 American civilians were killed in the attack.

The surprise attack was a huge victory for Hirohito’s Japan, as the empire lost 64 live and about 29 aircraft. Indeed, the Attack on Pearl Harbor was the main reason the US entered the Second World War.

In December 1941 and early 1942, Hirohito and his forces focused on conquering the US and British territories in Manila, Singapore, and Burma. He also broadly supported the plans to increase Japan’s military dominance in the Philippines in early 1942. This plan resulted in another military victory over the US, as Japan captured the Philippines on May 8, 1942.

By the summer of 1942, Hirohito’s Empire had conquered the entirety of southern Asia, portions of the Aleutian Island, and parts of eastern India. Japan also went on to launch devastating attacks on Australia.

In response to Japan’s victories, the US and the Allies launched successful tactical offensives against Japan in the Battle of Midway and the Battle of Guadalcanal. Those military victories by the Allied forces significantly turned tides against Hirohito’s forces.

By the late stages of the war, Japan’s strategies were largely overseen by Hirohito and the Supreme Council for the Direction of War. However, there remains considerable debate about whether Hirohito significantly impacted how the Japanese war effort was conducted during those years.

After Nazi Germany surrendered in May 1945, the US and the Allies decided to turn their military operations on the Empire of Japan. The US, in particular, had begun making huge investments in nuclear weapons in their super top secrete Manhattan Project.

The very successful multi-billion project helped produce the world’s first nuclear weapons. After successfully testing those weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. decided to unleash the power upon Japan. At the time, there was nothing in Hirohito’s military arsenal that could stop such weapons.

In fact, on July 26, 1945, the US issued an ultimatum to Japan in the “Potsdam Declaration,” calling for Japan’s unconditional surrender, or else they would face the most devastating destruction in the history of the Empire.

Hirohito and his generals called the United States’ bluff, hardly believing they’d carry out the threat. There some senior advisors of Hirohito who even doubted whether the U.S. even had such weapons. Therefore, Japan continued to soldier on in the war, wrecking further damage on Allied troops in Asia.

In August 1945, then-U.S. President Truman sanctioned the use of nuclear bombs on the towns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombs killed over 200,000 in those towns. Historians argue that those two attacks caused Hirohito and his generals to surrender, thereby bringing an end to the Second World War.

Japan’s surrender & the role of Hirohito after the Second World War

After the bombings of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, Hirohito was central to the Empire’s decision-making. The deliberations to surrender moved very slowly, and in fact, it was not fully considered until the US bombed Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. The Emperor directly intervened and ordered Japan’s formal surrender to the Allies six days after Nagasaki was bombed.

In an August 15, 1945 radio broadcast, a broadcast that came to be known as “Jewel Voice Broadcast,” the Emperor made a lucid and somewhat odd statement. In his address, he stated that given the extent of casualties, the war had shifted and developed to the nation’s disadvantage. He further noted that the cruelest and most powerful nuclear bomb had been denoted on Japan by the Americans and that if the nation continued to resist and not unconditionally surrender, they would face ultimate collapse, which could result in the total obliteration of the Empire of Japan. As a result, the Empire of Japan surrendered to the US and it allies on August 15, 1945.

Interestingly, there was an attempted military coup by some Imperial officers on the night before “Jewel Voice Broadcast”. The goal of those officers was to stop Emperor Hirohito’s announcement of Japan’s surrender.

In September 1945, Hirohito met with US General Douglas MacArthur. The two men formalized the “US Occupation of Japan.” The terms of the occupation could be described as lenient in many regards as it gave Hirohito and Japan hope following its total defeat.

The US commenced its military occupation of the country on August 28, 1945. This would persist for seven years, during which time the US worked to severely curtail any potential resurgence from ultra-nationalist Japanese and completely de-radicalize the nation. Eventually, the entire details were worked out and written in the Treaty of San Francisco, which was signed and agreed upon in 1951.

Although the San Francisco Peace pacts allowed the US to undermine Japan’s ability of becoming a superpower country in the Pacific, it could be said that the US did not impose major punitive social and economic measures on Japan during its occupation.

With Japan’s imperial dominance in the Pacific snuffed out, the US acted as the dominating power in the Pacific, mediating between several nations, including Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Japan.

They also made many changes and reforms in the internal governance of Japan during the occupation. Notably, in 1946, the US wrote a new constitution for Japan, which was fully adopted in 1947.

Although the constitution had its basis in the “Meiji-era” in Japan, the imperialist attributes of the era were greatly altered. This brought significant changes to the position and roles of the emperor. Hirohito was still considered the Emperor of Japan alright, however many of his privileges and powers were diminished.

Emperor Hirohito was no longer considered a god or celestial being but was now deemed a traditional Head of State of Japan. Thus, his roles were only ceremonial and very limited. Indeed, the Emperor had always been a semi-religious figure whose appearances in public were meticulously managed, and the war’s outcome emphasized this desire to keep him out of the public eye.

In addition, the US compelled him to deny that he was an “arahitogami,” a heavenly being who had taken on earthly form.

Emperor Hirohito and Post-War Japan

The 1947 Constitution, which was an amendment of the pre-war Meiji Constitution, limited Hirohito’s influence and powers and confirmed. The Constitution and many others confirmed his insignificant involvement in post-war Japanese governmental activities. Image – Gaetano Faillace’s photograph of General MacArthur and the Emperor at Allied General Headquarters in Tokyo, 27 September 1945

As a part of his ceremonial duties, he notably visited Hiroshima in 1947 and made a profound speech there as a symbolic acknowledgment of the events which took place in the city that led to the end of the Second World War.

However, Hirohito’s influence on post-war Japan peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. During those decades, he was highly instrumental in establishing Japan’s reputation as a nation restored after the unfortunate effects of various wars in the 1930s and 1940s. He also made a protracted series of global state trips in the 1970s.

His widely known interest in science, particularly marine biology, was one component of his personality that came more into focus in his middle years. The Emperor authored numerous important articles on hydroids and tiny marine predators linked to jellyfish.

The post-war period of Hirohito’s reign as emperor saw a remarkable transformation of the nation into one of the world’s most prosperous post-war nations. Japan reaped great benefits from the economic assistance that the US gave to the warring countries to aid in reconstructing their economy.

However, the US was operating on a well-defined plan for this. By enabling these nations to reconstruct economically, it drew them into the western and capitalist bloc and prevented them from siding with Soviet Russia and China. Between 1940 and 1980, successive Japanese administrations paired this progressive strategy with the excellent internal management of the country’s economy to create what has come to be known as Japan’s “economic miracle.”

It is generally accepted that Hirohito played a significant role in the decision of multiple Japanese governments to place a high priority on developing the sectors of computers, electronics, and automobiles. This resulted in the development of companies like Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Hitachi, Sony, and Panasonic, which have become part of the leading corporations in the world.

Japan doubled its industrial capital in just five years, from 1965 to 1970, a feat never before accomplished by an industrialized country. Towards the later part of Hirohito’s reign, Japan rose to become the second best economy, as it boasted of cutting-edge technology and stable economic indices that rivaled Europe.

Was Hirohito charged for war crimes?

The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal prosecuted Japan’s war criminals after the Second World War. However, Hirohito was not personally accused during the trials, despite being the leader of the Japanese Empire at the time.

Instead, 28 of Japan’s top military and political elites were brought to justice by the Allies on the grounds of inciting the Pacific War and supervising the commission of numerous war crimes. When the tribunal wrapped up its proceedings in 1948, many allegations were dropped. Still, others had surfaced throughout the trial, and several of the accused, including Imperial Supreme Council members were handed life sentences.

The tribunal referred to the fact that Emperor Hirohito was not the supreme commander of the Japanese government; therefore, it may have been unfair to absolutely condemn him for the decisions a large military administration made.

However, it was also widely acknowledged that he was spared punishment in the post-war trials only because General MacArthur fervently believed that Hirohito was required to remain Emperor to maintain continuity of traditions in Japanese culture.

Hirohito informed the U.S. military leadership that he was ready to offer a formal apology for Japan’s actions in World War II, particularly an apology for their Attack on Pearl Harbor.

Some historians have argued that the Cold War outbreak and its effects saved the Emperor since Japan had become an important player in the world crisis.

Was Emperor Hirohito a puppet?

There is no dispute that the renowned leader Emperor Hirohito was never a puppet, even though his role in Japan’s war history is still debatable today as it was in 1945.

The notion that he was a puppet stems from the fact that he only escaped severe penalties in the years following the Second World War because the US wanted to maintain stability and cultural continuity in Japan in the guise of the Emperor.

There may be little doubt about Hirohito’s active participation in the Japanese Empire’s attempts to expand its influence into southern and eastern Asia to dominate the Pacific. However, despite possessing the designation of Emperor, he was not an absolute monarch.

While he played numerous important roles in the administration of the Land of the Rising Sun, the vast majority of the decisions made in Tokyo in the run-up to and during the Second World War were taken by others, particularly by the top brass of the Japanese navy and army.

In light of this, although he can be judged partially responsible for war crimes, he cannot be assigned an excessive share of the blame for Japan’s attacks and war crimes.

However, his actions during the climax of World War II and in the decades that followed, when he was still the Emperor, generally reflected positively on him. Aside from greatly contributing to Japan’s rapid economic growth, he developed the social and cultural traditions of the natios by observing his people’s many valued traditions.

Moreover, it was a well-known fact that Japan prospered in the years after World War II under the continued rule of Emperor Hirohito, reinventing itself as a global hub of technology and scientific development in what was termed the “New Asian Economy.”

Death & Funeral

On September 22, 1987, Hirohito underwent surgery to correct a condition on his pancreas; haven suffered from digestion problems for many months.

During the surgery, the doctors diagnosed him with duodenal cancer. He appeared fit and substantially recovered months after the procedure. However, issues related to his health were kept a top secret. About a year later, on September 19, 1988, the Emperor collapsed and went unconscious for many minutes in his palace. His physicians discovered that his health had largely worsened, and he was also battling frequent internal bleeding.

In his nature as a fighter, he battled the condition for several months and sadly passed away at 6:33 am on January 7 of 1989; he was 87 years old. His grand steward, Shoichi Fujimori, announced his death to the people of Japan the same day, with details about his health made public for the first time.

The Emperor was survived by his spouse Nagako Kuni, five children, one great-grandchild, and ten grandchildren. He was succeeded by his eldest son Prince Akihito. At the time of Hirohito’s death, he was the longest-reigning and longest-lived Japanese Emperor in history. In addition, he was the world’s longest-reigning monarch at the time.

His death brought the conclusion of the “Showa era” and made way for the “Heisei era,” which was effective from midnight after the day he died. From January 7 until January 31, 1989, his formal appellation was “The Departed Emperor.” However, on January 13, 1989, his posthumous name, “Showa Tenno,” was concluded and made public by Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu on January 31.

His state funeral, which took place on February 24, 1989, was organized formally, just like his predecessor’s but lacked the strict Shinto nature of Japanese funerals. Many heads of state and world leaders were present at his funeral. He was laid to rest at the “Musashi Imperial Graveyard,” Hachioji, where his father, Emperor Taisho was buried.

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