Hirohito: Emperor of the Rising Sun

By: Nathan Chandler
Image: Wiki Commons

About This Quiz

In the 1920s and 30s, Japan's economy began stumbling and the country took up a new brand of nationalism that threatened worldwide peace. A man called Hirohito assumed the throne…and the rest is history. How much do you know about Hirohito and his wartime actions?

Hirohito was one of the most famous figures of which era?

Hirohito -- Emperor Showa -- was the emperor of Japan during World War II. He led his country into one of the bloodiest conflicts in history.

In the Western world, the man is mostly known as Hirohito, which means what?

Hirohito means "abundant benevolence." He ruled at a time when Japan was searching for more power at home and abroad.

Hirohito served during an incredibly chaotic time. How long was he the emperor?

From 1926 until he died in 1989, Hirohito was the emperor in Japan. That's an incredible span of more than 60 years.

As a boy, Hirohito had an interesting upbringing. Who raised him?

As the emperor's son, Hirohito was raised by government officials and attendants. He was being groomed for his eventual ascent to the throne.

Hirohito joined the army as a young man. He saw action in combat.

The crown price did join the army but he would never be allowed to fight. His military service was short and he soon moved on to politics.

Hirohito was ruler during the Showa period of Japan's history. What does "Showa" mean?

Showa means "enlightened peace," and for much of his reign, Japan was indeed peaceful. But the country also became exceedingly aggressive during the 30s and 40s.

When Hirohito assumed the throne, he was essentially treated as what?

When the Showa period began, emperors were still treated as living gods. That tradition would soon come to an abrupt end.

In 1937, the emperor approved a war against which country?

In 1937, Japan invaded China. It was the beginning of the brutal Second Sino-Japanese War.

Hirohito was actually opposed to the invasion of China.

He was fine with the invasion. He was happy for the military to do its job. The emperor has mostly concerned that it finish off the Chinese as quickly as possible.

The emperor personally approved the use of chemical weapons against China.

He apparently had no compunction about indiscriminately killing men using chemical weapons. Hirohito personally approved chemical attacks against the despised Chinese.

In 1932, Hirohito was nearly assassinated by a Korean man. How did the man try to kill him?

The Korean man tossed a hand grenade at Hirohito. The weapon exploded but just missed the emperor. The assassin was convicted and executed.

Hirohito's early reign saw which entity gaining more power in Japanese government?

Military leaders were seizing more and more power in the Japanese government. A culture of nationalism was also blooming across the country. You can probably guess what happened next.

The military committed many atrocities in China, such as the Nanking Massacre. Why didn't the emperor put a stop to it?

The military leaders of the time did much of their own decision-making. Hirohito also may have simply been afraid that he'd be forced out of power if he said anything to upset his generals.

In 1940, which country was NOT a part of the Tripartite Pact?

In 1940, Japan, Germany and Italy signed the Tripartite Pact, which created a military alliance that lasted into World War II. The Pact was mostly meant to align these three countries against America.

Hirohito gave the green light for the military to attack Pearl Harbor.

The emperor did approve the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. He listened closely as his generals proposed an intricate (and ultimately successful) attack plan.

During World War II, Hirohito embraced the anti-Semitic policies of Nazi Germany.

Japan did decide to become allies with the Nazis. But the Japanese never harbored any sort of anti-Semitic tendencies.

Nazi Germany finally surrendered in May 1945. What did Japan then decide to do?

With the Nazis out of the war, the Japanese decided to double down. They fought even harder, hoping to somehow regain the upper hand in the conflict.

The emperor made critical military decisions during the war.

Hirohito didn't just sit back waiting for the war to end. He was actively involved in military decisions and sometimes overruled the choices of his generals.

By summer of 1944, it became clear that Japan would lose the war. What did Hirohito order civilians to do?

The emperor feared that civilians would surrender and then enjoy kindness at the hands of the Allies, which would further weaken Japan's resolve. To prevent this, he ordered civilians to commit suicide rather than surrender.

In July 1945, the Allies proposed the Potsdam Declaration, which proposed Japan's unconditional surrender. How did Hirohito respond?

In the middle of 1945, Hirohito should have known his time was up. Instead, he refused to surrender and sent more troops to pointless deaths.

In August 1945, which country declared war on Japan?

Things could hardly go any worse for Japan. America was bombing their mainland, and the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, too.

Decades after the war ended, how did Hirohito feel about the atomic bombs that were dropped on his homeland?

Most Japanese condemned the atomic attacks but Hirohito was more even-handed. He said that the attacks were simply part of war.

After Japan's surrender, why did U.S. General MacArthur insist that Hirohito remain emperor?

MacArthur didn't want Japan to plunge into a power vacuum of chaos and confusion. Hirohito's presence, if only symbolic, gave the Japanese citizens something familiar to guide them through troubled times.

The emperor was devastated by the war's outcome. He never married.

He actually married a (rather distant) cousin, the Princess Nagako of Kuni. The couple had seven children together.

In the years following World War II, how did Hirohito hone his public persona?

Hirohito tried to distance himself from the country's World War II misadventures, claiming that he was simply a political symbol. Many historians, however, believe that he was actively involved in wartime decisions.

Following World War II, Japan was occupied by foreign armies. How long did the occupation last?

Occupation was a sort of insult to many Japanese, but in the wake of World War II, they had no choice. The occupation lasted for seven long years.

After the war, what happened to Hirohito's political power?

The occupation powers forced Japan to embrace democracy, which put power into the hands of elected officials. Hirohito, then, was essentially left with no real power at all.

Hirohito was emperor for more than 60 years. How did he die?

He developed a type of stomach cancer and went under the knife. About 18 months later, he died.

Who succeeded Hirohito as emperor?

In 1989, Hirohito's son Akihito succeeded him as emperor. Akihito is more than 80 years old but is still serving as emperor.

How is Hirohito's war record viewed in the modern West?

Historians still debate Hirohito's true feelings and actions with regard to World War II. It's likely that his legacy will always be muddied by the bloody conflict.

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