Empress Kōjun – Fragrant Purity

(public domain)

The Empress Kōjun was born Princess Nagako on 6 March 1903 as the daughter of Kuniyoshi, Prince Kuni by his consort, Shimazu Chikako. As a member of one of the Ōke (also known as the Old Imperial Family branch), she was eligible to provide an heir to the throne.

She attended the Girls’ Department of Peers’ School in Tokyo, which was specially set up for the daughters of the aristocracy and the Imperial family. She attended school with Princess Masako Nashimoto, later Crown Princess Uimin of Korea.

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Her youth ended as early she betrothed to her 14th cousin thrice removed, Prince Hirohito, later Hirohito, Emperor Shōwa. She had been selected by him after a tea ceremony at the Imperial Palace. She ended her schooling and entered a six-year training program that was to develop the characteristics for a future Empress. A total of 22 subjects were distributed over a week with 17 different teachers. 1 The engagement almost fell through when it was discovered that there was hereditary colour blindness in the Shimazu family, from which her mother descended. 2

Their betrothal was announced in January 1919 and they finally married on 26 January 1924. Nagako wore a combination of scarlet and purple with a long snow-white train. She had a golden ornament in her black hair. 3 Hirohito wore an orange robe with white trousers and on his head was a heavy ceremonial headdress. He also carried the imperial sceptre.  Afterwards, Hirohito changed into a uniform and Nagako changed into a sky-blue formal gown for the dinner in the Palace. 4 They spent their honeymoon on Okinajima, a little island in the middle of Lake Inawashiro. 5 She became Empress two years later on 25 December 1926.

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During their marriage, the couple would go on to have seven children. Their first son was not born until 23 December 1933, after four daughters. They eventually had five daughters and two sons. Their second daughter died at just five months. During this time of great sorrow, Nagako established a new tradition. Before this, doctors were forbidden to use things like hypodermic needles on the Imperial Family, but Nagako allowed the doctors to use any means necessary to save her daughter. While help came too late for the little Princess, many in the family would later benefit from the new tradition. 6

As Empress, she became the first Japanese Imperial Consort to travel abroad. She travelled with her husband on his European tour in 1971 and also joined him on his state visit to the United States in 1975.

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When her husband died on 7 January 1989, she became the Empress Dowager. By then, she was also in ill-health and she did not attend his funeral. She remained in seclusion until her own death at the age of 97 on 16 June 2000. She died at 4:46 pm with her family by her side.

Her son granted his mother the posthumous title of Empress Kōjun, meaning fragrant purity. She is buried in the Musashino no Higashi no Misasagi mausoleum within the Mushashi Imperial Graveyard. 7

  1. Itoko Koyama (1958) Nagako, Empress of Japan p. 22
  2.  Itoko Koyama (1958) Nagako, Empress of Japan p. 22
  3.  Itoko Koyama (1958) Nagako, Empress of Japan p. 42
  4.  Itoko Koyama (1958) Nagako, Empress of Japan p. 43
  5.  Itoko Koyama (1958) Nagako, Empress of Japan p. 57
  6.  Itoko Koyama (1958) Nagako, Empress of Japan p. 64-65
  7. Read more: Itoko Koyama (1958) Nagako, Empress of Japan

About Moniek Bloks 2490 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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