Nickii Wantakan Arcado
Born on June 25, 1902, Prince Chichibu was the second son of Emperor Taisho making him the younger brother of Emperor Hirohito. When he was 20, Emperor Taisho granted Prince Chichibu the title of Chichibu no miya (秩父宮), a gesture meaning that the Prince now had the approval to start a new branch of the imperial family line. When he turned 23, he flew to Great Britain to study at the Magdalen College, Oxford, one of the wealthiest constituent colleges of the University of Oxford. During this time, we were decorated with the Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order by King George.
Following the death of his father in 1927, he returned to Japan. While his older brother Hirohito was already the designated heir to the Imperial Crown, until Hirohito’s son’s birth (Crown Prince Akihito) in 1933, Prince Chichibu was next in line for the throne.
(Emperor Taishō (31 August 1879 – 25 December 1926) left, Emperor Hirohito (29 April 1901 – 7 January 1989) right
In 1928, he married Matsudaira Setsuko, the daughter of the Japanese ambassador to the U.S. Unfortunately, the couple never had children leaving as Princess Chichibu’s only pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage.
The Beginning of World War II
Prince Chichibu received his first commission in 1922. As a second lieutenant assigned to the First Imperial Guard Division. By 1925, he was promoted to first lieutenant in 1925 and 5 years later, became a captain after his graduation from the Army War College (陸軍大学校) in Minato, Tokyo. The college goal was to both modernize and Westernize the Imperial Army. By the end of the war, the building was torn down and abandoned.
The Prince and Princess set out on a lengthened tour of Western Europe beginning in 1937. Such trips included the attendance of the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey, representing Japan. They also visited King Gustaf V of Sweden and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, respectively. It was their last destination, in Nuremberg, Germany, that might have sealed their fate. Attending the Nuremberg Rally where Adolf Hitler attacked the credibility of Joseph Stalin and promoted the creation of pure Aryan identity, Prince Chichibu became convinced of his country’s potential alignment with Nazi Germany. Rumors circulated that the Prince and his brother, now Emperor Hirohito, had constant arguments on military alliances between Japan and Germany.
Eventually, Prince Chichibu gradually increased in military rank: battalion commander of Thirty-First Infantry Regiment in 1937, a lieutenant colonel in 1938, and colonel in 1939. While involved in many combat operations, some of his most notorious included Manchukuo during the Nomonhan Incident and Nanjing after the Nanjing Massacre.
Nomonhan Incident left, and Nanjing after the Nanjing Massacre right
In other stories, Prince Chichibu was also known to be involved in controversial activities. One example included his support for biological and chemical research within Unit 731 and other inhumane laboratories. Some reports spotted Prince Chichibu at a bacteriological lecture conducted by Shirō Ishii at the War Ministry Grand Conference Hall in 1939. Other note his constant involvement and attendance of vivisection demonstrations conducted by Ishii. While the history of Prince Chichibu involvement with Unit 731 has been constantly debated on, more information of the unit itself and the Prince’s involvement can be read in our publication Unit 731 by Derek Pua You may find it here.
Other historians discuss Prince Chichibu’s grand, treasure hunting initiative; the Golden Lily Operation. The operation, rumored to be led by Prince Chichibu himself, was an invasion and looting of rare items and treasures from various countries conquered by Japan during the war. The booty would then be transported back to Japan via the Philippines, where it was to be loaded onto ships ready to embark their final destination. We explored the Golden Lily Operation in detail per our article here.
Like other members of the royal family, Prince Chichibu was exonerated from persecution by Douglas MacArthur during the Tokyo Tribunal (also known as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East) on April 29, 1946. Both the Truman Administration and General MacArthur himself believed that for reform to occur, the pardoning of the royal family in war crimes and the legitimization of change under Hirohito was necessary. Others were not as lucky. Those who were persecuted during this tribunal were categorized into three levels; Class A Crime being the joint conspiracy to start and wage war, Class B Crimes being the conventional war crimes, and Class C is the crimes against humanity.
Prince Chichibu passed away due to tuberculosis complication in Fujisawa, Kanagawa on February 4, 1953. After cremation, his body was buried at the Toshimagaoka Cemetery in Tokyo. As he was known as the ‘Sports Prince’ due to his work in securing rugby unions in Japan as well as his honorary positions of the President of both the Japan–British Society and supporter of Scouting, after his death, the Tokyo Rugby Station was renamed to Chichibu-no-miya Rugby Stadium. A real-life statue of the Prince in rugby attire was also erected.
Prominent People of Minato City (Yasuhito, Prince Chichibu ), 16 Feb. 2006, www.lib.city.minato.tokyo.jp/yukari/e/man-detail.cgi?id=60.
Lebra, Sugiyama Takie. Above the Clouds: Status Culture of the Modern Japanese Nobility. University of California Press (1995).
Kanroji, Osanaga. Hirohito: An Intimate Portrait of the Japanese Emperor. Harpercollins, 1975.
“Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Chichibu.” Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Chichibu - The Imperial Household Agency, www.kunaicho.go.jp/e-about/history/history12.html.