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Emperor Hirohito

Emperor Hirohito in dress uniform
Hirohito in dress uniform
Source: Library of Congress


Where did Hirohito grow up?

Hirohito was born on April 29, 1901 in the royal palace in Tokyo, Japan. At the time he was born, his grandfather was the Emperor of Japan and his father was the crown prince. While a child he was called Prince Michi.

Not long after being born he went to live with another royal family who raised him. This was the common practice for princes of the royal family. When he was seven he attended a special school for Japanese nobles called the Gakushuin.

Crown Prince Hirohito
by Unknown
Becoming Emperor

At the age of 11, Hirohito's grandfather died. This made his father the emperor and Hirohito the crown prince. In 1921, Hirohito took a trip to Europe. He was the first crown prince of Japan to travel to Europe. He visited many countries including France, Italy, and Great Britain.

Upon returning from Europe, Hirohito learned that his father was sick. Hirohito took over the leadership of Japan. He was called the Regent of Japan. He would rule as regent until his father died in 1926. Then Hirohito became the emperor.

An Emperor's Name

Once he became emperor, he was no longer called Hirohito. He was referred to as "His Majesty" or "His Majesty the Emperor." His dynasty was called the "Showa" dynasty which means "peace and enlightenment." After his death, he was referred to as the Emperor Showa. He is still called this today in Japan.

Military Rule

Although Hirohito had complete authority in Japan, he had been taught since he was a young boy that the emperor stayed out of politics. He was to follow the advice of his advisors. During Hirohito's reign, many of his advisors were strong military leaders. They wanted Japan to expand and grow in power. Hirohito felt compelled to go along with their advice. He was afraid if he went against them, they would have him assassinated.

Invasion of China

One of the first major events in Hirohito's rule was the invasion of China. Japan was a powerful, but small, island nation. The country needed land and natural resources. In 1937 they invaded China. They took over the northern region of Manchuria and captured the capital city of Nanking.

World War II

In 1940, Japan allied with Nazi Germany and Italy forming the Tripartite Pact. They were now a member of the Axis Powers in World War II. In order to allow Japan to continue to expand in the South Pacific, Japan bombed the United States Navy at Pearl Harbor. This allowed Japan to take over much of the South Pacific including the Philippines.

At first the war was a success for Hirohito. However, the war began to turn against Japan in 1942. By early 1945, Japanese forces had been pushed back to Japan. Hirohito and his advisors refused to surrender. In August of 1945 the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima and another on Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese were killed.


After seeing the devastation of the atomic bombs, Hirohito knew the only way to save his nation was to surrender. He announced the surrender to the Japanese people over the radio on August 15, 1945. It was the first time he had addressed the Japanese people and the first time the public had heard their leader's voice.

Emperor Hirohito and General MacArthur
Hirohito and MacArthur
Source: US Army
After the War

After the war, many Japanese leaders were tried for war crimes. Some were executed for their treatment and torture of prisoners and civilians. Although many leaders of the Allied nations wanted Hirohito punished, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur decided to let Hirohito remain as a figurehead. He would have no power, but his presence would help keep peace and allow Japan to recover as a nation.

Over the next several years, Hirohito remained Emperor of Japan. He became the longest reigning emperor in the history of Japan. He saw Japan recover from the war and become one of the richest countries in the world.


Hirohito died on January 7, 1989 from cancer.

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    The Holocaust
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    Fireside Chats
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    Recovery and the Marshall Plan
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    World War II Glossary and Terms

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