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Hirohito & Japan

Form of Authority
photo: Hirohito on horsebackphoto: A-bomb over HiroshimaBefore the 1945 defeat, Hirohito the Emperor (1926-1989) portrayed himself as unsmiling, distant, and god-like. Dressed in a military uniform and frequently atop a white horse, he was the head of an aggressive, imperialist state that glorified war and sacrifice for Emperor and country. "Your life is as light as a feather," he told his people, "but your loyalty is as heavy as a mountain."
Deaths & Transitions
photo: Hirohito and MacArthurphotos: Hirohito's Shinto & secular funeralsWith the military defeat and allied occupation in 1945, Japanese imperial authority, along with Emperor Hirohito, died a social death. Hirohito's physical death came forty-four years later in 1989. For three days, TV networks stopped regular programming and the public mourned. Six weeks later there was a carefully orchestrated funeral beginning with a private Shinto rites for the Imperial Family, followed by a public and secular ceremony attended by international dignitaries.
photo: Hirohito the mortal goes visitingphoto: Rush hour in JapanAfter the defeat, the Allies stripped Hirohito of power, but allowed him to retain his title as a "symbolic" Emperor. Under American tutelage, he cultivated a new image compatible with that of the "democratic" Constitutional state. Along with his wife Nagako, he traveled throughout Japan, visiting with the people. His once distant and god-like image was replaced by that of a smiling, gentle, grandfatherly figure in civilian clothes. After his death in 1989, his son, Prince Akihito, was crowned Emperor. The Japanese people transferred much of the loyalty once reserved for the Emperor to the paternal corporation and embraced consumerism enthusiastically.

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Prepared by Linda Fisher & John Borneman, January 1999