Britain faced diplomatic dilemma with Emperor Hirohito’s funeral, documents show


A declassified diplomatic document has revealed that the British government grappled with its choice of delegates to send to Emperor Hirohito’s February 1989 funeral.

“The British representation at the funeral of the Emperor would need to be handled with great sensitivity,” a record of discussions declassified Friday said. The discussions were held by the ministers of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet on Sept. 29, 1988. The meeting was held in response to a government official’s report that the Emperor, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, was in critical condition.

London was attaching importance to relations with Japan but at the same time needed to take into account the “strong (negative) feelings” of the British public, according to the document. Many had experiences, some direct, with Japan in World War II and its treatment of prisoners during the conflict, it added.

Before the end of the war, the Emperor was the supreme commander of Japanese Imperial forces.

Ultimately, Britain sent Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, and then-Foreign Minister Geoffrey Howe to attend the funeral.