Empress Kōjun

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Empress Kōjun
Empress Kōjun official portrait 1.jpg
Kōjun c. 1930
Empress consort of Japan
Tenure25 December 1926 –
7 January 1989
Enthronement10 November 1928
BornPrincess Nagako (良子女王)
(1903-03-06)6 March 1903
Tokyo City, Empire of Japan
Died16 June 2000(2000-06-16) (aged 97)
Fukiage Ōmiya Palace, Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan
Burial25 July 2000
(m. 1924; died 1989)
HouseImperial House of Japan (by birth and marriage)
FatherPrince Kuni Kuniyoshi
MotherChikako Shimazu

Empress Kōjun (香淳皇后, Kōjun-kōgō), born Princess Nagako (良子女王, Nagako Joō, 6 March 1903 – 16 June 2000[1]), was a member of the Imperial House of Japan, the wife of Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) and the mother of Shigeko Higashikuni, Princess Sachiko Hisa-nomiya, Kazuko Takatsukasa, Atsuko Ikeda, the Emperor Emeritus Akihito, Prince Masahito Hitachi-nomiya and Takako Shimazu.

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

Early life[edit]

Princess Nagako of Kuni in 1910 as a child

Princess Nagako was born in Kuni-no-miya's family home in Tokyo, Japan on 6 March 1903, 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 Following her betrothal at age fourteen, Nagako was withdrawn from this school and began a six-year training program aimed at developing the accomplishments deemed necessary for an empress.[2]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]

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

Nagako was betrothed to her distant cousin the Crown Prince Hirohito, later the Emperor Showa (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 was announced. In a step away from tradition, Hirohito was allowed to choose his own bride. Nagako herself had no choice in the matter. In 1917, 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]

Princess Nagako married the Crown Prince Hirohito on 26 January 1924 and became the Crown Princess of Japan.[1] She became the empress of Japan 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, Empress Nagako gave birth to four daughters (see Issue). It was only on 23 December 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), now the emeritus emperor.[2] In all, Hirohito and Nagako had seven children, five daughters and two sons. (see Issue)

Life as the Empress of Japan[edit]

Empress Nagako, the U.S. First Lady Betty Ford, Emperor Hirohito and the U.S. 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 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]

Nagako accompanied Emperor Hirohito on his European tour in 1971 and later on his state visit to the United States in 1975. She suffered a fall two years later, injuring her spine, and following another serious fall in 1980 was confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of her life.[8]

Life as empress dowager[edit]

After the Emperor's death on 7 January 1989, she became 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 had died 868 years earlier.[2]

Empress Kōjun's mausoleum in the Musashi Imperial Graveyard

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 4:46 pm 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]





Empress Kōjun and Emperor Shōwa had seven children (two sons and five daughters).

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 Emeritus of Japan
(Akihito, Prince Tsugu)
23 December 1933 10 April 1959 Michiko Shōda Naruhito, Emperor of Japan
Fumihito, Crown Prince Akishino
Sayako Kuroda
Masahito, Prince Hitachi
(Masahito, Prince Yoshi)
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. Archived from the original on 18 October 2016. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  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 (in Japanese). Retrieved 27 October 2017.)
  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. ^ "Japan's Dowager Empress Dead at 97". CBS News. 16 June 2000.
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ "Genealogy". Reichsarchiv (in Japanese). Retrieved 25 October 2017.


External links[edit]

Japanese royalty
Preceded by Empress consort of Japan
Succeeded by