Hirohito: Japan's Emperor During World War II (Who Almost Sent Bioweapons To The U.S.)


Emperor Hirohito in dress uniform, 1935. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

Whether you know him as Michinomiya Hirohito or Emperor Shōwa, he was the longest-living and longest-reigning monarch in the history of Japan, with a reign that lasted from 1926 to his death in 1989—long after Japan became a democracy. He wasn't exactly an uncontroversial figure, especially during World War II, but he remains one of the most decorated and important monarchs of the 20th century.

Hirohito's Early Life

As the first son of Crown Prince Yoshihito, the young Michinomiya Hirohito was raised from his birth in 1901 to rule Japan. As a young man, he served in the Japanese Navy, but what he really loved was marine biology. In fact, after World War II, he authored several books on the subject. On Christmas Day 1926, Hirohito ascended the throne following the death of his father.

As exciting as his confirmation was, Hirohito was faced with a crisis almost immediately, forced to contend with Japan's financial tailspin as well as a series of assassination attempts. In 1932 alone, he barely dodged a grenade thrown by a Korean independence activist and squashed a coup that ended with the deaths of multiple government officials.