War & Peace: The Historic Meeting Between President Nixon and Japanese Emperor Hirohito in Alaska

March 20, 2021Matt Fratus
President Nixon and Emperor Hirohito meeting in Alaska

The historic meeting in Alaska between President Richard Nixon and Japan’s Emperor Hirohito, Sept. 26, 1971, was the very first time in Japan’s 2,631-year history that a reigning monarch from Japan’s imperial dynasty stepped foot on foreign soil. Photo courtesy of the Nixon Foundation.

On the night of Sept. 26, 1971, Emperor Hirohito landed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. It was late — 10 p.m. — when the 70-year-old emerged from his plane with Empress Nagako by his side. The couple gingerly walked down the steps to greet an awaiting President Richard Nixon and first lady Pat Nixon. The internationally televised meeting was the first time in its 2,631-year history that a reigning monarch from Japan’s imperial dynasty stepped foot on American soil.

Hirohito wasn’t a foreigner to the geography of the 49th state, often referred to as “the last frontier” of America. He famously opposed the Allies when he sided with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during World War II. Advised by his military leaders, he consented to the decision to strike first against the Americans in the devastating surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. A year later his troops seized the Aleutian Islands. The capture of Adak and Kiska Islands in Alaska’s Aleutian chain marked the first time since the War of 1812 that an American territory had been occupied. 

He waged a bloody war against US soldiers in the Pacific, particularly during the Aleutian Islands campaign between 1942 and 1943. The Battle of Attu was a 19-day conflict and the only World War II battle fought on North American soilThe battle alone saw about 550 Americans wounded or killed in fighting conditions that involved hand-to-hand combat, 120-mph winds, and dense fog. Among the estimated 2,500 Japanese occupying forces, only 28 survived; the others were either killed in combat or demonstrated gyokusai, “to die gallantly as a jewel shatters” — mass suicide in the name of the emperor. 

Following the two atomic bombs dropped over Japanese cities in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hirohito defied top Japanese generals to surrender. In a national broadcast on Aug. 15, 1945, he informed the Japanese people to “bear the unbearable and endure the unendurable.”

His reign and his future were left in the hands of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, the American commander of the Allied occupation of Japan. While others in Washington, as well as the British and Russians, called for the emperor to be tried as a war criminal, MacArthur vowed to keep him on his throne to unify the nation. MacArthur’s decision later set the stage for a historic peaceful meeting between the two nations.

“Just 50 years ago, Your Majesty became the first Crown Prince of Japan to travel to a foreign country,” Nixon said to the crowd, referencing Hirohito’s 1921 visits to Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy over a six‐month period. “And tonight Your Majesty becomes the first reigning monarch of Japan in your long history to step on foreign soil. Your journey symbolizes Japan’s growing position in world affairs. We meet in Anchorage, Alaska, a place which is approximately the same distance between Tokyo and Washington, D.C. And this fact reminds us that for the past quarter century that we have built a structure of political, economic, and cultural ties which spans the space between our two countries.”

The brief meeting in Alaska between Hirohito and Nixon lasted roughly one hour and 40 minutes and also included a speech by Hirohito, who shared his gratitude to the United States for its assistance in rebuilding Japan after World War II. The visit to America’s last frontier was the first of many destinations for Hirohito. The 18-day trip also included scheduled visits to Europe to improve foreign relations in Britain, Belgium, West Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, and Switzerland. Hirohito was the longest-serving monarch in Japan’s history when he assumed power on Christmas Day in 1926 following the death of his father, Emperor Taisho. Upon his death in 1989, he was succeeded by his son, Emperor Akihito.

Read Next: Army Announces Arctic Strategy as a Front Line of Defense and Deterrence

Matt Fratus
Matt Fratus

Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
US: War Crimes on All Sides in Ethiopia's Tigray Conflict

The Biden administration announced Monday that it has determined all sides in the brutal conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

March 20, 2023Associated Press
military pilots cancer rates
Higher Cancer Rates Found in Military Pilots, Ground Crews

In its yearlong study of almost 900,000 service members who flew on or worked on military aircraft b...

March 20, 2023Associated Press
whiskey pour
Veterans Lead the Way Among America’s Growing Craft Distilleries

American veterans are taking the lessons they learned in the military and changing the craft distilling industry.

March 20, 2023Mac Caltrider
military suicide veteran suicide
Military Moves To Cut Suicides, But Defers Action on Guns

In a memo released Thursday, Austin called for the establishment of a suicide prevention working gro...

March 17, 2023Associated Press
us military drills japan-south korea
US, Partners Stage Military Drills Amid Japan-South Korea Talks

The Sea Dragon 23 exercises that started on Wednesday will culminate in more than 270 hours of in-fl...

March 17, 2023Associated Press
leo jenkins a word like god
‘A Word Like God’: New Book From Army Ranger Leo Jenkins

In his latest poetry collection, Ranger-turned-writer Leo Jenkins turns away from war to explore cosmic themes of faith, fatherhood, and art.

March 16, 2023Mac Caltrider
us drone
Pentagon Video Shows Russian Jet Dumping Fuel on US Drone

The Pentagon on Thursday released video of what it said was a Russian fighter jet dumping fuel on a ...

March 16, 2023Associated Press
10th Mountain Division
‘Climb to Glory’ — A History of the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division

From the mountains of Italy to the mountains of Afghanistan, the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division built its legendary reputation by fighting in some of the most inhospitable places in the world.

March 16, 2023Matt Fratus
  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
  • Request a Correction
  • Write for Us
  • General Inquiries
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved