Empress Kōjun

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Empress Kōjun
Empress Kojun 1956-11-face.jpg
Empress consort of Japan
Tenure 25 December 1926 –
7 January 1989
Enthronement 10 November 1928
Born (1903-03-06)6 March 1903
Tokyo, Japan
Died 16 June 2000(2000-06-16) (aged 97)
Fukiage Ōmiya Palace, Tokyo, Japan
Burial 25 July 2000
Musashi Imperial Graveyard, Hachiōji, Tokyo, Japan
Spouse Emperor Shōwa
Issue Shigeko, Princess Teru
Sachiko, Princess Hisa
Kazuko, Princess Taka
Atsuko, Princess Yori
Akihito, Emperor of Japan
Masahito, Prince Hitachi
Takako, Princess Suga
Full name
Nagako (良子?)
House Imperial House of Japan
Father Prince Kuniyoshi Kuni
Mother Chikako Shimazui
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 empress consort 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 daimyo, 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 Gakushuin), 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 Following her betrothal at age fourteen, Nagako was withdrawn from this school and began a six-year training program aimed at developing the accomplishments deemed necessary for an empress.[2]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 (but agnatic) cousin, Prince Hirohito, at a very young age, in a match arranged by their parents, in the manner which was usual in Japanese society at that time. Her lineage and her father's unblemished military career were the major considerations. In January 1919, the engagement of Princess Nagako to her distant cousin, the then-Crown Prince Hirohito (later the Shōwa Emperor; 1901–1989), 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.[5]

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

Princess Nagako married Crown Prince Hirohito on 26 January 1924 and became 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 were blessed with a son, and Japan with 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.[6]

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. She became known as the "smiling Empress".[citation needed]

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 prior.[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 the next day, 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 Imperial Majesty
Spoken style Your Imperial Majesty
Alternative style Ma'am
Standard of the Empress Dowager

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]


Emperor Shōwa and Empress Kōjun with their children in 1941
Name Birth Marriage Issue
Shigeko, Princess Teru 9 December 1925
died, 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
died, 8 March 1928
Kazuko, Princess Taka 30 September 1929
died, 28 May 1989
21 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 3 March 1960 Hisanga Shimazu Yoshihisa Shimazu


See also[edit]



External links[edit]

Media related to Empress Kōjun at Wikimedia Commons

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