By traditional (and official) count, he was Japan's 124th emperor, but Hirohito ranks first in length of tenure. His reign spanned the years between 1921, when he became regent for his ailing father, and his death in 1989--a record of regal endurance comparable to those of Austria-Hungary's Franz Josef and Britain's Victoria. At his formal accession to the Chrysanthemum Throne in 1926, he took the official name of Showa--which translates as "Enlightened Peace." Ironically, his era was characterized by the brutal military invasion of China, followed by his country's most disastrous war, then its unprecedented foreign occupation and, ultimately, Japan's transformation into the world's second economic super-power.
In an odd way his presence and personality became the one persistent unifying factor for his countrymen in a century of sharp and unexpected transformation. The metamorphosis of his imperial image from the plumed militarist on horseback to the democratic monarch waving to crowds with his crushed fedora remains one of history's most puzzling, leaving basic questions about his ability and his legacy still unanswered a decade after his death.
Beyond doubt, Hirohito was the 20th century's great survivor. History has not given too many the chance to lead a nation into appalling disaster, only to emerge with at least partial credit for its reform and rebirth. Critics and loyal supporters alike have cited instances of Hirohito's superior decision-making or shrewd behind-the-scenes policy-setting. Others have likened him to the character portrayed by Peter Sellers in the film Being There, a modest mediocrity whose commonplace observances were given the value of Delphic instruction. Both versions are correct in the context of Hirohito's society--the Japanese have never shown much respect for Aristotle's law of contradictions. To understand the Showa Emperor's goals and premises, we must examine his life, as he led it and as it was led for him by his multitudinous helpers.
Hirohito was Emperor of Japan from 1926 until his death in 1989. His role in Japan's government in the World War Two remains highly controversial.
Hirohito was born in Tokyo on 29 April 1901, the eldest son of Crown Prince Yoshihito. His father became emperor when Hirohito was 11.
In 1921, Hirohito went on a six-month tour of Europe, becoming the first member of the Japanese imperial family to travel abroad. He married an imperial princess, Nagako, in 1924 and they had seven children. Hirohito became emperor when his father died in 1926.
The emperor was regarded as divine by many Japanese. In reality he had little power, with civilian and increasingly military officials deciding national policy. He reluctantly supported the invasion of Manchuria and the war against China, and attempted to encourage cooperation with Britain and the USA. However, he had no choice but to approve the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that led to war between Japan and the United States in December 1941. Despite his lack of enthusiasm over the decision to go to war, he was pleased with the Japanese military and naval successes that followed. He frequently appeared in military uniform to raise morale.
By the spring of 1945, the defeat of Japan seemed imminent. The Japanese government was deeply divided between military leaders who favoured continuing the war and civilians who wanted to negotiate for peace. Hirohito appears to have favoured peace. Following the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hirohito insisted that Japan surrender. On 15 August 1945, he made a radio broadcast announcing the end of the war - this was the first time the people of Japan had heard the voice of their emperor.
Some Allied leaders wanted to try Hirohito as a war criminal. General Douglas MacArthur, who was in charge of the United States' occupying forces in Japan, felt it would be easier to introduce democratic reforms if Hirohito stayed in office. Hirohito nonetheless repudiated his divine status.
In the post-war years, Hirohito travelled throughout Japan to see the progress of reconstruction and to win popularity for the imperial family. He also represented Japan abroad. He was very interested in marine biology and published numerous scholarly works in this field.
Hirohito died of cancer on 7 January 1989 at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and was succeeded by his son Akihito.
Tags: World war 2, WW2, pacific, japanese empire, Hirohito, emperor, Japanese military, kamikaze, war crimes, asia, korea, china, phillipines, manchuria, world at war, Chrysanthemum, General Douglas Macarthur, a-bomb, justified
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