Takahito, Prince Mikasa (2 December 1915 – 27 October 2016) was a member of the Imperial House of Japan who was fifth in the line of succession to the Japanese throne. He was the fourth and youngest son of Emperor Taishō and Empress Teimei and was their last surviving child. He was the only surviving paternal uncle of Emperor Akihito. His eldest brother was Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito). With the death of his sister-in-law, Kikuko, Princess Takamatsu, on 17 December 2004, he became the oldest living member of the Imperial House of Japan. After serving as a junior cavalry officer in the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II, the prince embarked upon a postwar career as a scholar and part-time lecturer in Middle Eastern studies and Semitic languages.
As a centenarian, Prince Takahito was the oldest living royal, and the oldest living prince in line of succession. Prince Mikasa died at 100 on 27 October 2016 of cardiac arrest after being hospitalized for pneumonia.
Prince Takahito was born at the Tokyo Imperial Palace, in the third year of his father’s reign and a full fifteen years after the birth of the future Emperor Shōwa. His childhood appellation was Sumi-no-miya. Prince Takahito attended the boys’ elementary and secondary departments of the Gakushūin (Peers’ School) from 1922 to 1932. By the time he began his secondary schooling, his eldest brother had already ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne and his next two brothers, Prince Chichibu and Prince Takamatsu, had already embarked upon careers in the Japanese Imperial Army and the Japanese Imperial Navy, respectively. He enrolled in the Imperial Japanese Army Academy in 1932 and was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant and assigned to the Fifth Cavalry Regiment in June 1936. He subsequently graduated from the Army Staff College.
Upon attaining the age of majority in December 1935, Emperor Shōwa granted him the title Mikasa-no-miya (Prince Mikasa) and the authorization to form a new branch of the Imperial Family.
Prince Mikasa was promoted to lieutenant (first class) in 1937; to captain in 1939; and to major in 1941.
According to Daniel Barenblatt, Prince Mikasa received, with Prince Tsuneyoshi Takeda, a special screening by Shirō Ishii of a film showing airplanes loading germ bombs for bubonic plague dessemination over the Chinese city of Ningbo in 1940. He also was given a film of Japanese atrocities, possibly linked to the footage used in The Battle of China, and was so moved that he made Emperor Hirohito watch the film.
Prince Mikasa served as a staff officer in the Headquarters of the China Expeditionary Army at Nanjing, China from January 1943 to January 1944. His role was intended to bolster the legitimacy of the Wang Jingwei regime and to coordinate with Japanese Army staff towards a peace initiative, but his efforts were totally undermined by the Operation Ichi-Go campaign launched by the Imperial General Headquarters.
In 1994, a newspaper revealed that after his return to Tokyo, he wrote a stinging indictment of the conduct of the Imperial Japanese Army in China, where the Prince had witnessed Japanese atrocities against Chinese civilians. The Army General Staff suppressed the document, but one copy survived and surfaced in 1994.
Prince Mikasa served as a staff officer in the Army Section of the Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo until Japan’s surrender in August 1945. After the end of the war, the Prince spoke before the Privy Council, urging that Hirohito abdicate to take responsibility for the war.
On 22 October 1941, Prince Mikasa married Yuriko Takagi (born 4 June 1923), the second daughter of the late Viscount Masanari Takagi. Prince and Princess Mikasa had five children, of whom two are still living. In addition to their five children, they had nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren as of 2015. The couple’s two daughters left the Imperial Family upon marriage. All of their sons predeceased them.
After the defeat of Japan in World War II, many members of the imperial family, such as Princes Chichibu, Takamatsu and Higashikuni, pressured then Emperor Hirohito to abdicate so that one of the Princes could serve as regent until Crown Prince Akihito came of age. On 27 February 1946, Prince Mikasa even stood up in the privy council and indirectly urged the emperor to step down and accept responsibility for Japan’s defeat. U.S. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur insisted that Emperor Hirohito retain the throne. According to Minister of Welfare Ashida’s diary, “Everyone seemed to ponder Mikasa’s words. Never have I seen His Majesty’s face so pale.”
After the war, Prince Mikasa enrolled in the Literature Faculty of Tokyo University and pursued advanced studies in archeology, Middle Eastern studies, and Semitic languages. From 1954 until his death in 2016, he directed the Japanese Society for Middle East Studies. He was honorary president of the Japan Society of Orientology. The Prince had held visiting and guest faculty appointments in Middle Eastern studies and archaeology at various universities in Japan and abroad, including: Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Aoyama Gakuin, Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, the University of London, the University of Hokkaido and the University of Shizuoka.
Due to his advanced age, towards the end of his life, Prince Mikasa rarely made public appearances, and regularly used a wheelchair. He underwent heart surgery in 2012, and made a full recovery. His routine included exercising for about 30 minutes each day with his wife at their Tokyo residence, and he often went outdoors for a roll in his wheelchair. He continued to read newspapers, and enjoyed watching sumo and music programs on television. On 2 December 2015, he became the first member of the imperial family to become a centenarian. On his 100th birthday, he said, “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.”
The residence of Prince and Princess Mikasa is located within the grounds of the Akasaka Estate in Motoakasaka, Minato, Tokyo.