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Legacy of war in Asia

Japan's Prince Mikasa, who fought war in China under a fake name, dies at 100

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 12:43pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 9:48pm

The 100-year-old uncle of Japanese Emperor Akihito, Prince Mikasa, died on Thursday, leaving only four heirs to the Chrysanthemum throne.

Mikasa’s death coincides with renewed attention to the future of the ageing and shrinking imperial family and whether women should be allowed to inherit the throne, breaking a males-only succession tradition that conservatives say is central to an imperial tradition stretching back 2,600 years.

Mikasa was the youngest brother of the current emperor’s father, Hirohito, in whose name Japan fought the second world war.

He was the only living member with military experience in the imperial family and he often spoke of the importance of peace after the war.

After graduating from the Military Academy in 1936, the prince served in the cavalry regiment. He graduated from the Military Staff College in 1941 and was posted to Nanjing, China, as an Imperial Japanese Army officer under a pseudonym in 1943.

The city was the site of the infamous Nanking Massacre by Japanese troops in late 1937 and early 1938.

He was 29 and a major when the war ended.

The prince began criticising the military leadership even before the war’s end. In a book published in 1984, he recalled being shocked at atrocities committed by the Japanese military while he was serving on the continent for a year.

“Even today I constantly feel the sting of conscience over my failure to fully grasp the criminality of war,” he wrote in the book.

After the war, the prince pursued his academic interests and devoted himself to the study of ancient Oriental history. He taught at such universities as Tokyo Woman’s Christian University and the Tokyo University of the Arts.

The prince had long suffered from a heart problem and underwent surgery in 2012 at age 96. Although he had steadily recovered and was in good health, the centenarian had recently been unwell after being hospitalised at St. Luke’s International Hospital for acute pneumonia in mid-May, according to Imperial Household Agency sources.

He had recovered from the symptoms but had remained in the hospital as his heart function had weakened due to old age, the sources said. He died at 8:34 a.m. after his condition suddenly deteriorated, according to the sources.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his condolences over the prince’s death in a statement read out by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at a press conference Thursday morning.

“(Prince Mikasa) supported his elder brother (Emperor Hirohito) as well as the current emperor, contributing to the peace of the country and the welfare of its people,” the statement said.

The agency will consider the date and venue of his funeral.

Emperor Akihito, 82, hinted in August that he wanted to abdicate - a step unprecedented in modern Japan and not possible under current law. The remaining four male heirs include 10-year-old Prince Hisahito, the emperor’s only grandson.

The three older heirs are Akihito’s 80-year-old brother and his two middle-aged sons including Crown Prince Naruhito.

With Princess Yuriko, 93, whom Prince Mikasa married in 1941, he had three sons and two daughters. Princes Takamado, Tomohito and Katsura died in 2002, 2012 and 2014, respectively.

Four of his grandchildren are in the imperial family. The fifth, Princess Noriko, a daughter of Prince Takamado, gave up her imperial title when she married a priest at Izumo Taisha, a Shinto shrine in Shimane Prefecture in 2014.

Prince Mikasa was born on December 2, 1915, as Prince Takahito and the fourth son of Emperor Taisho. His eldest brother was Emperor Hirohito, posthumously called Emperor Showa. His other brothers were Princes Chichibu and Takamatsu.

Reuters, Kyodo, Associated Press