Emperor Hirohito was a man who wore many hats. Most famously, he was Japan’s head of state during World War Two. As emperor, he was the stoic and elegant embodiment of Japan. But he was also a family man, a poet, and a marine biologist.
Hirohito had the Imperial Biological Laboratory built for him when he was 24, which was substantially upgraded three years later when he became the emperor. It contrasted the rest of the Imperial Household in the plainness and usefulness of its furniture. Plain furniture, such as a trash bin made out of a trophy elephant leg.
He would steal away every Saturday afternoon and most Thursdays when he could, to his lab where he would meet with other biologists to identify and describe the species that they had dredged up from the surrounding waters. He had a gentle touch when working in the field. If collecting from a colony of polyps, he would take only a small bit of each colony and would put the rock carefully back in place, so as to let the rest thrive.
After the war he published 32 books of plates, describing some 23 new species of ascidians, 7 new species of crabs, 8 new species of starfish, and 6 new species of pycnogonids. He conducted the first comprehensive survey of the biodiversity of Sagami Bay, but he was particularly well versed in the tiny tentacled polyps that grew on the sea floor, called hydrozoans. All of his work was published under the name ‘Hirohito Emperor of Japan.’
At the top is a photo of Emperor Hirohito with his wife, whose hat is making her look a bit like a hydrozoan herself. Next down is Emperor Hirohito in the Imperial Laboratory, from E. J. H. Corner’s article about Hirohito’s scientific career. Below that is an illustration of a nudibranch (left) from Opisthobranchia of Sagami Bay (1949), and an illustration of a coral (right) from The Hydrocorals and Scleractinian Corals of Sagami Bay (1968), by Hirohito Emperor of Japan. Below is a photo of Emperor Hirohito in Kurume, also in 1949.