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An Audience with the Emperor

Recalling Hirohito’s 1975 visit to Woods Hole

Emperor Japan

ART CONTEST WINNER • Mixed Media by Chloe McLean • Grade 11, Falmouth High School

What would compel the Emperor of Japan, visiting the United States to shore up post-war relations between the two countries, to include a side trip to Woods Hole? Pretty much the same thing that brings visitors from all over the world to Woods Hole: science.

During a two-week trip to the U.S. in 1975 with his wife, Empress Nagako, Emperor Hirohito of Japan made a short detour to this Falmouth village to visit the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL).

“His being in Woods Hole was a tribute to science,” says M. Patricia Morse, professor emerita of biology at the University of Washington and co-founder of the E.S. Morse Institute at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories. A native of Woods Hole, Morse was biology professor at Northeastern University at the time, and was present at MBL when the emperor visited. “It was well known in marine biological communities that the emperor was active in marine biology,” Morse adds. He was an expert on hydroids, small creatures related to jellyfish and corals—a passion that stemmed from time spent during his childhood at his family’s imperial resort in Japan’s Sagami Bay, according to Hirohito’s obituary in The New York Times on January 7, 1989. The emperor wrote several scientific papers, including Some Hydrozoans of the Bonin Islands (1974) and Five Hydroid Species from the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea (1977).

In the summer of 2016, the Woods Hole Historical Museum hosted an exhibit celebrating the connections between Woods Hole and Japan. Coordinated by museum director Jennifer Gaines (who has since retired) and museum archivist Susan Witzell, the exhibit featured photos and documents showcasing the careers of Japanese scientists with connections to Woods Hole, and the knowledge of the ocean they shared together during the last 150 years. The exhibit included photos of Hirohito’s October 1975 visit and samples of the types of organisms he viewed while touring Woods Hole’s scientific facilities.

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