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The Oldest Living Royal, Takahito, Prince Mikasa

Takahito, Prince Mikasa is the oldest living royal in the world and fifth in line to the Japanese throne. He was born 2 December 1915, in the Tokyo Imperial Palace, as the youngest child of Emperor Taishō and Empress Teimei. He was born fifteen years after his eldest brother, the future Emperor Shōwa.

He was educated at The Gakushūin (The Peers School) from 1922 through 1932. His father passed away on Christmas Day in 1926 when Takahito was just 11 years old. When he began his secondary education, his eldest brother had been on the throne for 6 years. In 1932, he enrolled in the Imperial Japanese Army Academy, where he was later commissioned as a sub-lieutenant. In June 1936, Takahito was assigned to the Fifth Cavalry Regiment. He would go on to graduate from the Army War College.

In 1935, Emperor Shōwa gave his youngest brother the title of Prince Mikasa (Mikasa-no-miya), upon Takahito reaching the age of majority. He was also granted permission to create his own branch of the Imperial Family.

Emperor Taishō's four sons. From left to right: Emperor Shōwa, Takahito, Nobuhito, and Yasuhito in 1921. Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Emperor Taishō’s four sons. From left to right: Emperor Shōwa, Takahito, Nobuhito, and Yasuhito in 1921. Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

In 1937, he was promoted to first lieutenant, and he was further promoted to captain in 1939. Two years later, Prince Mikasa was promoted to the rank of major. His Imperial Highness was a staff officer in the Headquarters of the China Expeditionary Army in Nanjing, China, for one year from January 1943 to January 1944. The China Expeditionary Army was an army group of the Japanese Imperial Army that was stationed in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. It has been said that his role in this regiment was to bolster the legitimacy of the Reorganized National Government of the Republic of China. More, it was to help organise the peace initiative with the Japanese Army staff. However, this effort was not successful.

The Imperial General Headquarters undermined these efforts with Operation Ichi-Go, which was a series of battles between Imperial Japanese Army and the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of China. These battles were fought from April to December of 1944 in three different Chinese provinces: Henan, Hunan and Guangxi.

Prince Mikasa served as a staff officer of the Army in Tokyo in the Imperial General Headquarters until the surrender of the Japanese forces in August of 1945. After the Second World War had ended, Mikasa spoke before the Privy Council, where he urged his brother to take responsibility for the war by abdication. It was revealed in 1994 that His Imperial Highness spoke to Japanese soldiers in 1944, while stationed in China, where he criticised the Japanese Army for their actions in China. According to The Japan Times, he admitted he was appalled when he heard an officer say, “The best education for newly recruited soldiers is to have them do bayonet practice by using living prisoners of war as targets.”

Military authorities would later destroy the documents regarding this speech, but one copy survived. It was discovered by a Kobe University professor in the National Library of Japan. In an interview after the release of the document, Prince Mikasa stated that he made those remarks because he was desperate to bring the war to a close. He admitted that he never told his brother the full details of this speech, and he only shared small fragments of what he said with Emperor Shōwa.

After the end of World War II, Prince Mikasa began studying at Tokyo University, focusing on archaeology, Middle Eastern studies, and Semitic languages. Starting in 1954, he began directing the Japanese Society for Middle East Studies.

He holds the following honorary positions:

  • Honorary President of the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan
  • Honorary President of the Japan – Turkey Society
  • Honorary Vice-President of the Japanese Red Cross Society

He is a member of the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum in Japan, and he holds foreign honours from Sweden (Knight of the Royal Order of the Seraphim), Denmark (Knight of the Order of the Elephant), Iran (Commemorative Medal of the 2500th Anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire), and Italy ( Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic).

Upon his 100th birthday last year, he remarked, “Nothing will change just because I turn 100 years old. I’d like to spend my days pleasantly and peacefully while praying for the happiness of people around the world and thanking my wife, Yuriko, who has been supporting me for more than 70 years.” He’s known to exercise thirty minutes per day, alongside his devoted wife.

He had heart surgery in 2012, and now, due to his advancing age, he rarely participates in official duties. When he does make public appearances, he has been confined to a wheelchair.

Regarding his personal life, Mikasa married The Honourable Yuriko Takagi on 22 October 1941. The daughter of  Viscount Masanari Takagi became Yuriko, Princess Mikasa upon her marriage. The couple would go on to have five children: Princess Yasuko of Mikasa (now known as Yasuko Konoe), Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, Yoshihito, Prince Katsura, Princess Masako of Mikasa (now known as Masako Sen), and Norihito, Prince Takamado. They have nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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