Emperor Hirohito on His White Horse

Emperor Hirohito Showa in a rare photo of him riding in civilian clothes. Emperor Hirohito's personal mounts, white Arabian stallions named "Hatsu Shimo," (First Frost) and "Sirayuki" (White Snow), were bred in special Imperial stables. He only appeared on white mounts. Horses had an important symbolic role in Japanese religion and even today at certain shrines a sacred white horse is stabled. Before the defeat of Japan by Allied forces in 1945, Hirohito, as commander of the Japanese armed forces, was frequently pictured in military uniform atop his white horse. He cultivated a stern, unsmiling, and god-like image, since, in the Shinto religion, the Emperor was thought to have descended from the Sun-Goddess. Photographs which showed the Emperor smiling or laughing or made him appear shorter than those around him (he was slight in stature) were forbidden to be shown to the public. As he did no public speaking, the sound of his voice was unknown to his people until the surrender broadcast of August 14, 1945. His dialect was of the Imperial Court, which was hard for ordinary citizens to understand. During the Emperor's birthday, the most important day of year, there were demonstrations. Thousands of subjects arrived to at the Imperial Palace to present their respects to the Emperor. Children in school uniforms with hinomaru banners, seamen and soldiers in great groups with kyokujitsuki flags, members of patriotic groups with symbols, badges, and Shinto priests with ceremonial dress and religious signs, were present. Hirohito took his duties very seriously, once refusing to enter an Imperial tent or even a cloak while reviewing marching students in the rain. The Showa Emperor remained a remote, somewhat two-dimensional figure, one whose image purposefully changed from the General on a white horse, reviewing the troops, to the peaceful marine biologist in his laboratory, to the avuncular head of state congratulating his citizens on their postwar prosperity.
Caption Written By: 
Jason McDonald
Date Photographed: 
Monday, January 31, 2028
Kyoto Prefecture