A Look Into the Educational Process of Emperor Hirohito

The education of Crown Prince Hirohito, before and during his regency period, demonstrated the need of an activist emperor who was knowledgeable in the art of being an effective political actor. His instructions also included the belief in his own familial line of divinity and the cult of personality that centered particularly on his grandfather, Emperor Meiji. This education gives us particular insight into the view the ruling elites held both on the world and Japan’s respective place in it. As we look at the education of Emperor Hirohito, we shall take into context the identifiable themes that play a pertinent role in cultivating a future activist emperor, capable of ruling the modern Japanese state.

Prior to his ascension to Crown Prince in 1912, the education of the young Hirohito focused on a number of subjects. Martial studies, in particular, were of extreme importance, particularly to those whom had a stake in the future Emperor’s education. General Nogi, whom oversaw the education of the Young Hirohito up until his ritual suicide, gave no favor to the position of the young prince, and focused not only on academic achievements, but physical education and development as well.1 Certain virtues and characteristic traits that were deemed important for an active emperor were ordained into the mind of the young Hirohito by his instructors, such as frugality, diligence, patience, self-control, and masculinity.2 Other duties such as loyalty and traditional military morality were indoctrinated to construct the ideal monarch for the Japanese state. It was at this time that Hirohito came to believe that an ideal education can overcome one’s own physical/mental shortcomings.

In extending the importance of military traditions within the Imperial Family, the Emperor Meiji had issued the imperial Household Regulation Number 17 in 1910, which mandated military service for all male members of the imperial family.3 The importance of such martial education demonstrates the importance Japanese officials held for military consciousness in the future monarch, as well as attempting to ameliorate and avoid the failures of the Emperor Yoshihito.

In 1912 (at age eleven) Hirohito became crown prince and received the rank of second lieutenant in the army; and ensign in the navy. After the ritual suicide of his mentor, General Nogi, the education of Crown Prince Hirohito was undertaken by Fleet Admiral Togo Heihachiro and naval Captain Viscount Ogasawara Naganari.4 The curriculum for Hirohito at this stage of his life continued with military training coupled with liberal arts education. Ironically, many of the top scholars who were chosen to instruct Hirohito at the Ogakumonjo were skeptics of the emperor worship ideology, and their beliefs aided in the discomfort Hirohito held for believers of said philosophy. It’s also noteworthy to mention it was at this stage that Hirohito was isolated much from the rest of society, and even from his siblings. His education continued with only five selected classmates from the Peers’ School.

A reoccurring sense of militarism continued on with the Crown Prince’s education, particularly in the studies of military tactic. The notion of military affairs being essential to administration of state is symbolic in its representation of the new war-faring Japanese state. This militaristic education emphasized the role of military components in the establishment of a sound monarch, employing a number of key instructions designed to create an emperor fully capable of assuming the role of Commander in Chief.

The education process also attempted to prepare Hirohito for the numerous roles a top political actor must accept. This included detailed history lessons of both the nation and the Imperial Family. It was through these means that he learned (upon his eventual ascension to the throne) of his divine command of the military, and his role as the moral agent for which the Japanese state acted upon.5 These studies emphasized the relationship between the military and Imperial House, but it also reveals Japanese elites rejection of the social reforms and refusal of crucial changes taking place both abroad and at home. It was during the era of Taisho Democracy that Hirohito’s military instructors failed to impress upon him the stresses caused by the inherently flawed, strictly hierarchal Japanese elitist system. There was a substantial gap between what Hirohito learned from his instructors, and the events that were happening within the Japanese state.

While during the early years of Crown Prince Hirohito’s education, emphasis was placed on military training and tradition, other inter-disciplinary elements of cultivating an emperor capable of demonstrating immense civil powers were brought in.6 “Instruction for the Emperor” or (teiogaku) was the formal education Crown Prince Hirohito received that was responsible for teaching him how to exercise his enormous powers over civil society. These studies included preparing the Crown Prince for the role of a dutiful monarch capable of taking an active participatory stance in politics, rather than acting as an emasculated figurehead. Teiogaku not only included educating Hirohito in the duties of statesmanship, but also acted as a means of solidifying emperor-worship ideology, and countering arguments for the implementation of democracy, and other foreign thought. The significance of these teachings was to promote Hirohito’s aspirations to be “a charismatic political leader who stands at the head of and promotes the process of civilization and enlightenment.”7

Particular individuals also played an immense role in the education of Hirohito. These individuals (and their curriculums) demonstrate how the Japanese elites viewed the world, and Japan’s place in it. One of these men was Sugiura Shigetake, an ultra-nationalist Confucian ideologue with an overtly conservative outlook.8 His lectures included impressing upon Hirohito the principles and virtues that he should emanate as Emperor. These principles and virtues were symbolized by the three imperial regalia of sword, jewel, and bronze mirror. Contrary to the teachings of Sugiura, Hirohito came to see these as nothing more than symbols for his own political legitimacy. The views reflected through the teachings of Sugiura showed contempt for ideas such as liberalism, socialism, and other “Western” areas of thought; while at the same the perceptions of Japanese supremacy and imperialism were taught in terms of racial conflict.9 Hirohito was instructed upon the ideal that he came from an imperial line with the moral and political authority destined to lead the Asian peoples and lay rest to Western dominance.

This curriculum of national ideology that espoused racial superiority and homogeneous virtues was also a key component to the educational contribution of Hirohito’s history teacher, Shiratori Kurakichi. Shiratori explained the legitimacy and uniqueness of the Japanese people, and the continuous imperial line of unbroken successors to the throne. This worked in sync with his notions of an imperial Japan that rested authority upon its divine origin and making direct correlations to Japanese racial superiority. Such beliefs were used to justify expansionist policies that were developing since the Meiji era.
Shiratori also interpreted the diplomacy of the Meiji era for young Hirohito. His discussion of Japanese-Korean relations conveyed a message of arrogance and hypocrisy. Shiratori illuminated the ideal that Japanese interventions were best for all parties involved, and aided in a greater sense of hegemony via annexing Korea. Shiratori exemplified the attitudes of imperial dominance that Japanese ruling elites held for its Asian neighbors. The beliefs epitomized by the likes of Shiratori and Sugiura were that that the Japanese represented a balance in society, demonstrating a paternalistic vision of the world. This view of world affairs being largely constructed by racial conflict played an important role in educating Hirohito. It was under these pretences that Hirohito learned his place as emperor, and what his expected role towards his subjects and the outside world would be.

Hirohito ascended to regent for his father on November 25, 1921. He was beginning a new stage in his life, with increased pressures, and increased expectations from his advisors, educators, and the Genro. Upon becoming regent, Hirohito dealt with a number of issues that were inevitably going to take rise; such as his obligation to abrogate for Yoshihito’s weaknesses and continuing on with his education in order to establish himself as an activist emperor capable of defending both the throne and Japanese Empire.10 Indeed, the group of elders that surrounded Hirohito urged him to continue on with his studies in a diligent fashion. Now began a new period of his education; learning the ways of imperial demeanor and a better understanding of political, economic, and military affairs.

The new set of instructions that were intended to prepare Hirohito for the next stage of his life included more attendance at actual political gatherings, events, and discussions with high officials. However, this is where the young regent’s interest dwindled, and he found it hard to remain attentive to learning the rules of monarchy and autocracy. A few years into his regency, a new series of lectures were given two to three times a day, on a variety of subjects deemed pertinent to the cultivation of an effective emperor. Hirohito’s studies became excruciatingly strenuous at this point, and rigor was employed to strengthen his skills, focus his monarchial virtues, and ameliorate physical and mental inadequacies.11 It was during this time that Hirohito also learned contempt for Diet political parties, and understood the importance of maintaining imperial control over the court, and keeping party influences to a minimum. Amongst the plethora of various studies he was engaged in, Hirohito began to learn court rituals and traditions, as well as economics, law and history.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

International law, taught by Tachi, was part of Hirohito’s curriculum after Japan had signed the Versailles-Washington framework of institutions that promoted equality, peaceful resolution, and outlawing aggressive war.12 This is where an interesting contradiction takes place. Tachi, whose conservative, nationalistic views conflicted with the ideals of the Versailles-Washington treaties, taught Hirohito that the concept of war was always legal, and that institutions of international law sought to “subserve the interests of states.”13

The contemporary events of the late Taisho era demonstrate the way in which changes and alterations abroad and within Japan reflected by the ruling elites, played an important role in the education of young Hirohito. During his years in the Ogakumonjo, the tide of monarchy had almost passed, as increasing amounts of monarchal systems were collapsing throughout Europe. This attitude of international agitation towards monarchism and domestic problems of indifference to the throne heightened the need to formulate an emperor that was in staunch contrast to Yoshihito. The weaknesses and failures of the previous regime would be corrected through the regimented education of the future monarch.

The viewpoints of the elders and ruling elites indicated a sense of distrust of international institutions such as “international law” and other bodies that were dictated by Western nations, and which sought to impose limitations on the Japanese state. This wasn’t the only aspect of Hirohito’s education that illustrated Japanese elites’ ideas regarding the world and Japan’s place in it. If we look back into the educational process, the returning notion of what it is to be Japanese in a world of imperialism, hegemony, and racial conflict rears its head in unsurprising places. The viewpoints of the contemporary elites were focused on sustaining and expanding Japanese interests abroad, while believing within themselves their own superiority to all peoples of the world.

The ruling elites had hoped to cultivate an emperor that would continue on in the tradition of Meiji, and create a stable international environment for an expanding Japanese Empire. This goal was achieved through the indoctrination of Hirohito as a monolithic force resembling the numerous symbols of Japanese polity and how they applied to the world order. He was to be well educated, and competent enough in the exercising of vast military and civil powers that would result in a permanent Japanese Empire led by the Imperial Household. Whether through rhetoric of racial superiority, paternalistic diplomacy seeking to promote progress of both Japan and its semi-Colonial imposed status on neighboring nations, the view of Japanese ruling elites implicated the paradigm of Emperor-worship ideology coupled with a new sense of awareness in the international political stage.

Throughout this essay, we’ve seen a number of ways in which the educational curriculum imposed upon Hirohito was indicative of the overall general beliefs of the ruling elites; as well as discussed the education itself. The ascertainable reasoning behind this education was in fact directly linked to the way in which Japan viewed itself amongst the new modern super powers. The need for an activist emperor to asseverate the virtues, principles, and indoctrinated ideals that would sustain Japanese viability and nationhood was immeasurable; and this need was coupled by a desire to reinforce the autocratic system amongst a global uprising of anti-Monarchist ideologies and movements.

Japanese ruling elites saw themselves as a bastion of civilization and enlightenment, and nothing demonstrated this more than the assumptions and general beliefs that they instructed upon Hirohito in the development of an imperial political actor, with the full capabilities of securing the Imperial throne, protecting the interests of a Japanese empire. More importantly, the inculcation of beliefs in his own divinity and the unbroken familial line helped assure his place as a confident, suitable emperor. In conclusion, we can see that the instruction of the young Hirohito played a crucial role in the development of an emperor that suited the mold of which the ruling elites felt matched their own predispositions to the Japanese place in the modern world. The elite consensus was prevalent in its support for Japanese orthodoxy that transcended the ambiguities and assumptions of the outside world, in a virulent attempt at preserving a dying system of autocratic rule and subject hood.


1.Bix, Herbert P., Hirohito and the Making of Modern (
New York
: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), p. 36.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., p. 37.

4. Ibid., p. 43.

5. Ibid., p. 53-54.

6. Ibid., p. 57.

7. Ibid., p. 58.

8. Ibid., p. 63.

9. Ibid., p. 69.

10. Ibid., p. 123.

11. Ibid., p. 129.

12. Ibid., p. 134.

13. Ibid.

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