History: Nagako, Japan’s Ferocious Dowager Empress [2004]

I thought some of you might be interested in a 2004 piece I wrote on Japan’s powerful, fierce Empress, then later Dowager Empress, Nagako. It is, among other things, the tragic story of a victim turned abuser and of a woman who rose to become a real force and power behind Emperor Hirohito.

The Early Years

empress nagako kojun japan diamond tiara

Empress Nagako, posthumously known as Empress Kojun.

Dowager Empress Nagako was the wife of Emperor Hirohito and the mother of Japan’s current Emperor, Akihito. When she died, only four years ago at the age of 97, she was also the longest living empress consort in Japanese history. She was Crown Princess from 1924 to 1926, Empress from 1925 to 1989, and Empress Dowager from 1989 to 2000. In short, she was close to the throne for 76 years!

She was born on March 6, 1903, Tokyo, the eldest daughter of Prince Kuni who headed one of the eleven cadet branches of the Imperial Family. Her father, a descendent of a 13th century emperor, was the last of his line. And she, in turn, was the last imperial princess to marry into the Japanese Imperial Family.

Continue reading