Yoshihito (嘉仁), the Taishō Emperor (大正天皇, August 31, 1879-December 25, 1926, r. 1912-1926), was the 123rd emperor of Japan in the traditional count (which also includes several nonhistorical emperors). He was the surviving son of Emperor Meiji by Yanagiwara Naruko, a lady-in-waiting at the Imperial Palace. Emperor Meiji’s consort, Empress Shoken (Haruko), was officially regarded as his mother. He received the personal name of Yoshihito and the title Haru no Miya (Prince Haru) from the emperor on September 6, 1879. He was officially declared heir apparent on August 31, 1887, and had his formal investiture as crown prince on November 3, 1888.

On May 25, 1900, Crown Prince Yoshihito married then 16-year-old Sadako, the daughter of Prince Kujō Mitchitaka [peer], the head of the five senior branches of the Fujiwara clan, and had the following children:
  1. The future Emperor Showa (Hirohito), (April 29, 1901 – January 7, 1989); married Princess Nagako (March 6, 1903 – June 16, 2000), eldest daughter of Prince Kuni Kuniyoshi.
  2. Prince Chichibu (Yasuhito), (May 26, 1902 – January 4, 1953); married September 28, 1928, Miss Matsudaira Setsuko (September 9, 1909 – August 25, 1995), eldest daughter of Mr. Matsudaira Tsuneo, sometime Japanese ambassador to Britain and the United States, and imperial household minister.
  3. Prince Takamatsu (Nobuhito), (March 1, 1905 – February 3, 1987); married February 4, 1930, Tokugawa Kikuko (December 26, 1911 – December 18, 2004), second daughter of Prince Tokugawa Yoshihisa.
  4. Prince Mikasa (Takahito), (born December 2, 1915); married October 22, 1941, Yuriko (born June 6, 1923), second daughter of Viscount Takagi Masanori.
Yoshihito had contracted meningitis shortly after birth, leaving him in poor health both physically and mentally. There were also rumours of lead poisoning. His upbringing, at first in the care of Emperor Meiji's maternal grandfather, Count Nakayama Tadayasu (中山忠能, 1809-1888), stressed physical fitness more than formal study; his health, however, remained poor and of constant concern to the court and the administration. He was kept out of view from the public as much as possible, even after his ascension to the throne in 1912 when his health deteriorated rapidly. On one of the rare occasions he was seen in public, the 1913 opening of the Diet, he famously rolled his prepared speech into a telescope and stared at the assembly through it instead of reading it.

By 1919 he had become unable to perform essential state ceremonies and spent extended periods at imperial villas away from Tokyo. In 1921, Crown Prince Hirohito was named Prince Regent for his father. Upon his death on 25 December 1926, he was succeeded by Hirohito.

The traditional upbringing of imperial princes changed dramatically after Yoshihito was designated crown prince in 1887: he was the first imperial heir to be educated publicly, attending the Peers' School (now Gakushūin University). He studied Western subjects as well as Japanese and Chinese classics. After eight years of formal schooling, he was assigned tutors and lecturers, some among them Frenchmen, Englishmen, and Americans.

Practices within the imperial family were reformed too. As of 1905, the emperor's children were permitted to reside with him, and in 1924 monogamy was officially established and the ancient system of imperial concubinage abolished.



Emperor Taishō (大正天皇) in military uniform (Photo: Imperial Household Agency, public domain)


Emperor Taishō in court robes (Photo: Imperial Household Agency, public domain)


Emperor Taishō (far right) with his first two sons, Yasuhito (Prince Chichibu, left) and Hirohito, the future Emperor Showa, and a tutor (far left) (Photo: Imperial Household Agency, public domain)


Emperor Taishō (front row centre) on an official state visit to Korea in October 1907; to his left the last Korean Crown Prince Yi Un (1897-1970).


Emperor Taishō in the robes of the Order of the Garter, as a consequence of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance (Photo: Imperial Household Agency, public domain)