Emperor Hirohito and Shōwa Japan: A Political Biography

Emperor Hirohito and Shōwa Japan: A Political Biography

Emperor Hirohito and Shōwa Japan: A Political Biography

Emperor Hirohito and Shōwa Japan: A Political Biography


Emperor Hirohito reigned for more than sixty years, yet we know little about him or the part he really played in the turbulent history of Showa Japan.
Stephen Large draws on a wide range of Japanese and Western sources in his study of Emperor Hirohito's political role in Showa Japan (1926-89). This analysis focuses on key events in his career such as the extent to which he bore responsibility for Japanese aggression in the Pacific in 1941, and explains why Hirohito remains such a contested symbol in Japanese post war politics.


With growing speed, as we move through the 1990s, Japan in her many aspects is becoming a subject of interest and concern. The successes of the Japanese economy and the resourcefulness of her people have long been appreciated abroad. The increasing impact of Japan on the outside world, with uncertainities about her future direction, also generates suspicion and even hostility in the United States, Western Europe and elsewhere. This is now compounded by the fact that, since 1989, events in the former Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe have begun a revolution in the international system, whose outcome is as yet unclear.

The Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese Studies Series seeks to foster an informed and balanced—but not uncritical—understanding of Japan. One aim of the series is to show the depth and variety of Japanese institutions, practices and ideas. Another is, by using comparison to see what lessons, positive and negative, can be drawn for other countries. Much contemporary comment on Japan resorts to stereotypes based on outdated or ill-informed ideas. We believe that many aspects of Japan are little known abroad but deserve to be better understood.

If 1989 marks the beginning of a revolution in international politics, it also saw the death of the most controversial and, outside Japan, best known Japanese individual of the twentieth century. Hirohito, the Shōwa Emperor, was a puzzling figure around whom passionate disagreements continue to rage, both outside Japan and in Japan itself. Did he rule Japan in any real sense or was he merely a figurehead? What were his real views on nation, militarism, war and peace? Did he have leadership ability, potential or actual? Could he have prevented Pearl Harbor and thus the Pacific War? How should we evaluate the issue of his war responsibility, and should he have been brought to trial after the war as a war criminal? Did the retention of the Emperor by General MacArthur after the war in any sense open the door to an eventual resurgence of chauvinistic militarism in Japan?

Dr Large addresses these contentious issues soberly and with the multi-faceted approach that they deserve. He has used the available primary sources in Japanese, including those that have become available since the death of the Shōwa Emperor. His book is a crucial landmark in the study of this fascinating subject.

J.A.A. Stockwin
Director, Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies, University of Oxford. . .

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