In the immediate wake of World War I, Japan, as one of the victorious Allied powers, was eager to present itself to the world as not only the greatest military force in East Asia, but also as one of the great world powers, home to one of the most advanced industrial economies. In an unprecedented move, in 1921, Japan’s young Crown Prince Hirohito (1900-89), who would later become the Shōwa Emperor (reigned 1926-89), was dispatched on six-month-long tour of Western Europe. Importantly, the trip was to mark the first time that a member of Japan’s imperial family had ever left the country. The tour had a two-fold mission. First, it was to showcase the importance that Japan placed upon its relationships with the main European Allied Powers, and to cut a confident, modern and civilized image, consistent with that of a world leading nation. Second, the trip was an opportunity to educate Hirohito on the outside world and the manners and outlook of the leadership of the world’s great countries. The Crown Prince was also to be given a moving lesson in the horrors of war, as graphic scenes of the carnage wrought the late conflict could still be seen in France and Belgium.
The present work is an official map of Hirohito’s tour, showing its routes and stops from Japan to and through Western Europe, and back. It was issued late in 1921, shortly after Hirohito’s return home, by the Third Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy, which had provided the Crown Prince’s transport and protection. The map seems to have been issued separately but was also sometimes inserted loose with examples of the 皇太子殿下御渡欧 第三艦隊記念写真帖 [His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince Visits Europe – 3rd Fleet Commemorative Photo Album] (Tokyo: For the Third Fleet, Taishō 10 (1921)), a printed photo album issued to commemorate the tour.
The present map embraces Eurasia and Africa and shows Hirohito’s outward tracks marked in red, the return track marked in black, with stops marked by flags, with commentary boxes describing his experiences at various points, and with the flags of the nations visited adorning the top centre. As shown, in March 1921, Crown Price Hirohito, accompanied by a large and high-level entourage, set out from Tokyo aboard the warship Katori. The party stopped at Singapore, Columbo, Aden, and Egypt (whereupon Hirohito toured the Pyramids), before passing through in Italy and Gibraltar (where the Crown Prince was fitted for Saville Row Suits that would be waiting for him upon his arrive in London).
The Crown Prince visited France and Belgium, where he was said to have been moved by the terrible destruction that he witnessed, having visited the scene of the Battle of Verdun, where so many perished. He was heard remarking “War is such a terrible thing” and resolved to dedicate himself to the cause of world peace.
However, it was his time in England that was the most significant aspect of the tour, as it would represent the only time in his life that he was able to escape the rigid, stifling formality of Japanese court life. The author Noriko Kawamura wrote that:
“Late in his life, Hirohito would describe his visit to England as the happiest time of his life. In England he felt freedom from all the rigors and stiffness of court life in Japan. He was impressed by the relative informality of England’s royal family. He felt that King George V was treating him like a son. He observed the mixture of casual attitude and affection that the English people had for their king – rather than the awe that the Japanese had toward their emperor…
On Hirohito’s first day at Buckingham Palace, King George V paid him an unexpected breakfast visit in suspenders and carpet slippers, and Edward, Prince of Wales, played golf with him and accompanied him on a round of official gatherings.” (Noriko Kawamura, Emperor Hirohito and the Pacific War (2016)).
Upon Crown Prince Hirohito’s arrival back in Japan the tour was hailed a great success. Hirohito acquitted himself very favourably at the European courts and received stellar press coverage. His presence seemed to ‘humanize’ Japan’s imperial family, who were technically divine, while the tour cemented Japan’s role as one of the great powers. The Crown Prince also seemed to have learned many lessons on peace and good, modern governance. However, shortly after Hirohito ascended the throne. upon the death of his father, in 1926, Japan’s government descended into fascist hyper-militarism, leading Japan to invade China in what became known as the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), and the then into World War II, fighting against Hirohito’s former host, Britain, and the United States. During the conflict Japan was responsible for far worse human right atrocities than those that had occurred in World War I, and it all ended with Japan’s total defeat and the loss of its overseas empire. Hirohito’s role in the war and his country’s atrocities remains a point of tremendous controversy; many would say that the ‘pacifist lessons’ he learned in 1921 had been totally forgotten. Some believed that he was largely a puppet, caught up by events, while others claim that he was actively supportive of Japan’s excesses and provided crucial legitimacy to the ruling junta. In any event, in the postwar settlement, the Americans decided, for stability’s sake, that it would be better to not charge the Emperor with any war crimes and to leave him on the throne. Hirohito would preside over Japan for another 44 years, during which time he was universally hailed as clam, stabilizing presence, as Japan rebuilt itself as a great, but peaceful, society and global economic power. The present map is rare and seems to only very seldom appear on the market, either as a separate map or within an example of Third Fleet photo album. We can trace only a single institutional example of the separate map, held by the National Library of Singapore.
References: National Library of Singapore: 202762132; OCLC: 969928320.