When the Emperor was Divine

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Emperor Hirohito Character Analysis

The Japanese Emperor during the war. According to Japanese traditions, the Emperor was the divine embodiment of a god. The boy repeats his name over and over as an act of defiance against the prison guards. At the end of the war, the Emperor repudiates his divinity, signaling the end of a period of Japanese pride and self-determination.

Emperor Hirohito Quotes in When the Emperor was Divine

The When the Emperor was Divine quotes below are all either spoken by Emperor Hirohito or refer to Emperor Hirohito . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of When the Emperor was Divine published in 2003.
Chapter 3 Quotes

Whenever the boy walked past the shadow of a guard tower he pulled his cap down low over his head and tried not to say the word. But sometimes it slipped out anyway, Hirohito, Hirohito, Hirohito. He said it quietly. Quickly. He whispered it.

Related Characters: The Boy , Emperor Hirohito
Related Symbols: The Japanese Emperor
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Boy passes by some of the American guards who run the camp--he's walking by the huge guard tower that looks down on the Japanese-American camp residents. In spite of the fact that he's so close to Americans, the Boy mutters the name "Hirohito" to himself--the name of the Japanese Emperor, considered a divine presence. Hirohito was the Emperor during World War II, and he was popular even among Japanese-Americans. Thus, for the Boy to mutter Hirohito's name is a quiet act of rebellion: he's naming the spiritual leader of America's enemy, and he's showing his allegiance with Japanese culture. The Boy is frightened of the guards, but he finds tiny ways to rebel against their authority and retain his dignity and culture in an environment of racism and dehumanization.


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In the dream there was always a beautiful wooden door. The beautiful wooden door was very small—the size of a pillow, say, or an encyclopedia. Behind the small but beautiful wooden door there was a second door, and behind the second door there was a picture of the Emperor, which no one was allowed to see. For the Emperor was holy and divine. A god.

Related Characters: The Boy , Emperor Hirohito
Related Symbols: The Japanese Emperor
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Boy has a recurring dream about the Emperor of Japan, Hirohito. Hirohito is a clear symbol of the Boy's Japanese heritage, in all its strengths and weaknesses. The fact that the Boy can only access his Japanese heritage in dreams is a sad reminder of his present situation: he lives in camps where Japanese culture of any kind is frowned upon and even considered treacherous.

The Boy's dreams suggest that he acutely feels the struggle between his American citizenship and his Japanese heritage. Americans have thrown him in a camp under the delusion that he's a danger to the country, and yet the Boy is clearly pretty ignorant of Japanese culture; he has only the vaguest idea who the Emperor is or what he symbolizes (if the Boy knew a little more about Hirohito's life, he might not like him so much). In short, the passage sums up the ironies of the internment program: the American soldiers were guarding the Japanese people who were least likely to feel any strong connection with Japan, or be traitorous to America in any substantive way.

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Emperor Hirohito Character Timeline in When the Emperor was Divine

The timeline below shows where the character Emperor Hirohito appears in When the Emperor was Divine. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3: When The Emperor Was Divine
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...the guard towers, pulls his hat down over his head, and whisper the Emperor’s name: Hirohito. Hirohito. Hirohito. (full context)