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The BBC's Alix Kroeger
"Her death marks the end of an era for Japan"
 real 28k

The BBC's Charles Scanlon in Tokyo
"To younger Japanese she was a rather remote figure"
 real 28k

Friday, 16 June, 2000, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
Japan's Dowager Empress dies
Nagako
Empress Nagako has not been seen in public for years
Empress Dowager Nagako, the elderly widow of Japan's late Emperor Hirohito, has died at the age of 97.

Nagako fell into a coma shortly after 0700 local time on Friday (2100 Thursday GMT), after her blood pressure dropped.

She had been suffering from breathing difficulties since early on Thursday and was using an oxygen mask.

The announcement of her death was made in a nationally broadcast news conference.

Nagako was being treated at a medical facility at the Imperial Palace.

Emperor Hirohito and Empress Nagako
Empress Nagako was devoted to her husband
Television footage showed Nagako's eldest son - Emperor Akihito - Empress Michiko, Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako arriving at the building where she was being treated.

Nagako married Hirohito in 1924, and they had seven children.

She became Empress of Japan in 1926 when Hirohito succeeded to the Chrysanthemum throne, following the death of his father, Emperor Taisho.

At the time of his succession, the emperor was viewed and treated as a god in Japan.

Remote figure

Hirohito's reign spanned Japan's military conquests in Asia, defeat in World War II, and rise as one of the world's richest nations.

An Imperial century
1903: Nagako born, first daughter of Prince Kuniyoshi Kuninomiya

1924: Nagako marries Hirohito

1926: Hirohito ascends to imperial throne

1933: Nagako gives birth to Akihito

1945-6: Hirohito announces Japan's surrender at the end of World War II, and renounces deity status

1989: Hirohito dies. Akihito becomes Emperor

He died on 7 January 1989.

Rarely seen in public, Nagako remained a remote figure to most, and was known to Japanese people only through the press.

Outside Japan, she was known for her classical elegance and the "empress smile" she displayed during overseas trips to Europe and the United States in the 1970s.

She was keenly attuned to court customs, and always showed a subject's deference to the emperor, maintaining a modest presence.

A painter, poet and musician, she specialised in the traditional arts of Japan.

Nagako became Japan's longest-living empress dowager when she turned 92 in 1995, surpassing Empress Kanshi, who died in 1127.

She last attended an official event on the 86th birthday celebration for Hirohito on 29 April 1987, less than two years before his death.

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12 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
Japan celebrates imperial anniversary
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