Empress Kōjun

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Empress Kojun 1941-face.jpg
The Empress in 1941
Empress consort of Japan
Tenure 25 December 1926 –
7 January 1989
Enthronement 10 November 1928
Born Princess Nagako (良子女王)
(1903-03-06)6 March 1903
Tokyo, Japan
Died 16 June 2000(2000-06-16) (aged 97)
Fukiage Ōmiya Palace, Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan
Burial 25 July 2000
Musashi Imperial Graveyard, Hachiōji, Tokyo, Japan
Spouse Hirohito, Emperor Shōwa (m. 1924; d. 1989)
Issue Shigeko Higashikuni
Sachiko, Princess Hisa
Kazuko Takatsukasa
Atsuko Ikeda
Akihito, Emperor of Japan
Masahito, Prince Hitachi
Takako Shimazu
House Imperial House of Japan
Father Prince Kuni Kuniyoshi
Mother Shimazu Chikako
Religion Shinto

Empress Kōjun (香淳皇后, Kōjun-kōgō), born Princess Nagako (良子女王, Nagako Joō, 6 March 1903 – 16 June 2000), was the widow of Emperor Shōwa of Japan. She was the mother of the present emperor, Akihito.

Her posthumous name is Kōjun,[1] which means "fragrant purity". Empress Kōjun was empress consort (kōgō) from 25 December 1926 to 7 January 1989, making her the longest lived empress consort in Japanese history.[2]

Early life[edit]

Princess Nagako of Kuni in 1910 as a child

Princess Nagako was born in Tokyo, Japan, into one of the Ōke branches of the Imperial House of Japan, which are eligible to provide an heir to the throne of Japan (by adoption). She was therefore a Princess by birth, as the daughter of Kuniyoshi, Prince Kuni (1873–1929) by his consort, Chikako (1879–1956). While her father was a scion of the Imperial family itself, her mother descended from daimyōs, the feudal or military aristocracy.[3] Nagako would become one of the last Japanese who could remember what life was like inside the Japanese aristocracy in the years before the Second World War.[4]

As a young girl, Nagako attended the Girls' Department of Peers' School in Tokyo (now Gakushūin), which was a school set up especially for the daughters of the aristocracy and imperial family. Among her cohort was Crown Princess Bangja of Korea (then known as Princess Masako Nashimoto). Following her betrothal at age fourteen, Nagako was withdrawn from this school and began a six-year training program aimed at developing the accomplishments deemed necessary for an empress.[2]

Marriage and children[edit]

Nagako was betrothed to her distant cousin Prince Hirohito (1901–1989) at a very young age, in a match arranged by their parents, which was usual in Japanese society at that time.[note 1][5] Her lineage and her father's unblemished military career were the major considerations. In January 1919, the engagement of Princess Nagako to the then-Crown Prince Hirohito (later Emperor Shōwa), was announced. In a step away from tradition, Hirohito was allowed to choose his own bride. Nagako herself had no choice in the matter. At the age of 14, she and other eligible women participated in a tea ceremony at the Imperial Palace while the Crown Prince watched unseen from behind a screen.[2] He eventually selected Nagako.[6]

Empress Nagako with her first son, Prince Akihito, in 1934

Princess Nagako married Crown Prince Hirohito on 26 January 1924 and became the Crown Princess of Japan.[1] She became Empress upon Hirohito's accession to the throne on 25 December 1926. Unlike his royal predecessors, Emperor Hirohito decided to abandon his 39 court concubines. Over the first decade of marriage, Nagako produced only four daughters. It was only on December 23, 1933, almost ten years after their wedding, that the young couple had a son, and gave Japan an heir, in the birth of Akihito (明仁), the present emperor.[2] In all, Hirohito and Nagako had seven children, five daughters and two sons. (see Issue)

Life as empress[edit]

Empress Nagako, First Lady Betty Ford, Emperor Hirohito and President Gerald Ford walking down the Cross Hall towards the East Room prior to a state dinner held at the White House in honor of the Japanese head of state. (1975)
Empress Kōjun's mausoleum in the Musashi Imperial Graveyard

Empress Nagako performed her ceremonial duties in a traditional manner. She initially came to live in the palace during the time when people spoke an archaic imperial form of Japanese that has largely disappeared.[4] Her role required her to attend special ceremonies such as those for the 2600th anniversary of the legendary foundation of the Empire of Japan in 1940 or the conquest of Singapore in 1942.[7]

The Empress was the first Japanese Imperial Consort to travel abroad.[citation needed] She accompanied Emperor Hirohito on his European tour in 1971 and later on his state visit to the United States in 1975.

After the Emperor's death on 7 January 1989, she assumed the title of Empress Dowager.[1] At that time, she was in failing health herself and did not attend her husband's funeral; and she remained in seclusion for the rest of her life. In 1995, she became the longest-living dowager empress of Japan, breaking the record of Empress Kanshi, who died 868 years earlier.[2]

At the time of her death at the age of 97 in 2000, Nagako had been an empress for 74 years. In her final days, the Imperial Household Agency announced that she was suffering from breathing problems but that the illness was not serious. Nagako died at 4:46pm on 16 June 2000, with her family at her side.[4]

Emperor Akihito granted his mother the posthumous title of Empress Kōjun.[1] Her final resting place is in a mausoleum named Musashino no Higashi no Misasagi, near that of her husband within the Musashi Imperial Graveyard.[1]

Titles and styles[edit]

Styles of
Empress Kōjun
Imperial Seal of Japan.svg
Reference style Her Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Ma'am

Across the arc of her life and death, Empress Kōjun has been known by number of related, but distinct titles:[1]

  • 6 March 1903 – 26 January 1924: Her Imperial Highness Princess Nagako of Kuni
  • 26 January 1924 – 25 December 1926: Her Imperial Highness The Crown Princess
  • 25 December 1926 – 7 January 1989: Her Majesty The Empress
  • 7 January 1989 – 16 June 2000: Her Majesty The Empress Dowager
  • Posthumous name: Her Majesty Empress Kōjun


National honours[edit]

Foreign honours[edit]


Name Birth Death Marriage Issue
Shigeko, Princess Teru 9 December 1925 23 July 1961 10 October 1943 Prince Morihiro Higashikuni Prince Nobuhiko Higashikuni
Princess Fumiko Higashikuni
Naohiko Higashikuni
Hidehiko Higashikuni
Yūko Higashikuni
Sachiko, Princess Hisa 10 September 1927 8 March 1928
Kazuko, Princess Taka 30 September 1929 26 May 1989 20 May 1950 Toshimichi Takatsukasa Naotake Takatsukasa (adopted)
Atsuko, Princess Yori 7 March 1931 10 October 1952 Takamasa Ikeda
Akihito, Emperor of Japan 23 December 1933 10 April 1959 Michiko Shōda Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan
Fumihito, Prince Akishino
Sayako, Princess Nori
Masahito, Prince Hitachi 28 November 1935 30 September 1964 Hanako Tsugaru
Takako, Princess Suga 2 March 1939 10 March 1960 Hisanga Shimazu Yoshihisa Shimazu



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Both Nagako and Hirohito were distant cousins twice over: fourteenth cousins thrice removed by Prince Fushimi Sadafusa of the Fushimi-no-miya cadet branch of the imperial house, and tenth cousins once removed through Bōjirō Toshimasa (1582–1609), a courtier and noble (kuge).
  1. ^ a b c d e f "Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun - The Imperial Household Agency". Kunaicho.go.jp. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Downer, Lesely. Obituary: "Nagako, Dowager Empress of Japan," The Guardian (London). 17 June 2000.
  3. ^ Large, Stephen S. Emperor Hirohito and Shōwa Japan: Political Biography, Books.google.com, pp. 25–26
  4. ^ a b c Kristof, Nicholas D. "Dowager Empress Nagako, Hirohito's Widow, Dies at 97", The New York Times. 17 June 2000.
  5. ^ "Genealogy". Reichsarchiv. Retrieved 27 October 2017.  (in Japanese))
  6. ^ Connors, Leslie. (1987). The Emperor's Adviser: Saionji Kinmochi and Pre-war Japanese Politics, Books.google.com, pp. 79–80
  7. ^ David C. Earhart, Certain Victory, 2008, pp.22, 23, 65
  8. ^ a b "Khojun wearing the stars of both orders" (JPG). Akafkaesquelife.files.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  9. ^ a b "Khojun wearing the stars of both orders" (JPG). Upload.wikimedia.org. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  10. ^ "Photographi image" (JPG). S-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  11. ^ "Photographi image" (JPG). Belgiumjapan150.jp. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ "Wearing the order badge attached to a ribbon on the left above her belt". Getty Images. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  15. ^ "Genealogy". Reichsarchiv. Retrieved 25 October 2017.  (in Japanese)


External links[edit]

Japanese royalty
Preceded by
Empress Teimei
Empress consort of Japan
Succeeded by
Empress Michiko
Preceded by
Empress Teimei
Empress Dowager of Japan
Succeeded by