HIH Nobuhito, Prince Takamatsu (1905-1987) was the third son of Emperor Yoshihito and Empress Sadako of Japan and brother of the Emperor Hirohito. Prince Takamatsu is a curious figure in the traditionally remote, silent Japanese royal family after eight volumes of his diaries (1922-1947) were made public posthumously that were highly critical of the Japanese army and exposed his brother Emperor Hirohito’s private thoughts about World War II.
Prince Takamatsu was born at the Aoyama Palace in Tokyo and served a naval cadet’s education graduating from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in 1925. His diaries reveal a deeply discontented man keen to rebel against the restrictive life he was forced to lead behind the walls of the Imperial Palace. ‘Everywhere I go I am watched’, he writes in the early 1920s. ‘Why can’t I be trusted to walk alone? I can never have the freedom I crave. I am so lonely. No other occupation is so ridiculous’. The Prince was echoing sentiments that were shared by Britain’s Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII) in the 1920s.
Despite Prince Takamatsu’s diaries revealing expressions of affection towards fellow naval cadets, he married Princess Kikuko (granddaughter of the last Shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate) in 1930. The Prince and Princess Takamatsu did not have children. Immediately following the marriage, the Imperial couple were sent on a world tour of good will including a State Visit to Britain where they were presented to King George V. It was during this stay in London that Prince Takamatsu visited Henry Poole & Co and ordered a wardrobe of Western tailoring just as his brother the the Prince Hirohito had done in 1921.
Prince Takamatsu rose through the ranks of the Imperial Japanese Navy and was made Squadron Commander of the cruiser Takao in 1932, promoted to Commander in 1940 and to Captain in 1942. In 1926 his brother had been enthroned as Emperor Hirohito and Prince Takamatsu’s was an early voice of caution warning against Japanese military aggression. When Japan invaded Manchuria and subsequently declared war on China following the Marco Polo Bridge incident in 1937, Prince Takamatsu noted in his diary ‘the Chinese fired the first shot but the Japanese troops gave them more than adequate reason for firing’.
In 1941 Prince Takamatsu warned Emperor Hirohito that the Imperial Japanese Navy couldn’t sustain hostilities against the might of the US armed forces for longer than two years. He was bitterly opposed to the Pearl Harbour airstrike against the US and urged Emperor Hirohito to sue for peace after the Japanese naval defeat in the Battle of Midway in 1942. This and his siding with the Queen Mother (Empress Sadako) against Japan’s Prime Minister caused a profound rift between Prince Takamatsu and his brother. The diaries revealed that Emperor Hirohito closed his ears and his mind to any opposition.
Japan’s defeat in World War Two shook the Chrysanthemum Throne. The Emperor as deity was no more. Prince and Princess Takamatsu dedicated the rest of their lives to supporting the arts. The Prince had been named Governor of the Japan Art Association in 1929. After the war he declared his belief that ‘the way to achieve understanding is through the arts’. He became President of the Japanese Red Cross Society and many other international arts alliances between Japan and Denmark, France and the US. Princess Takamatsu established a cancer research fund in her name and caused controversy when she questioned male primogeniture in the line of succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne.
Prince Takamatsu was eighty-two when he died in 1987. Emperor Hirohito called on his brother an hour before his death. Princess Kikuko once again caused controversy by insisting on an autopsy and making the results (lung cancer) public. The Prince’s diaries were discovered in 1991 and Princess Kikuko allowed their publication warts and all. By placing her late husband’s diaries in the public domain Princess Kikuko allowed the world to see that Prince Takamatsu was a peacemaker whose words went unheeded by the Emperor Hirohito and his generals of the Imperial Army.