Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rare Footage of Japan's Emperor Hirohito Visiting Disneyland (1975)

By Keith Mahne

During his reign, the Japanese hardly ever got to see Emperor Hirohito. It was only about 15 times a year that the gates of his Imperial Palace in central Tokyo would open and a custom Nissan Royal limousine would roll across the moat to carry the Emperor and his ceremonial sword and stone toward some ritual of life on the throne: the opening of parliament, the viewing of a sumo wrestling match, the greeting of a state visitor. But in 1975, just like other imperial visitors before them, including Ethiopia's late Emperor Haile Selassie and the Shah of Iran, Japan's Emperor Hirohito and his wife Empress Nagako paid a visit to the most magical kingdom of them all, Walt Disney's very own Disneyland. Join us in today's new article as we return to Disneyland of 1975 during the Emperor's visit to Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom...

Japan's Emperor Hirohito signs Disneyland's guest book as Mickey Mouse waits to escort him on a tour of the Park, 1975

Emperor Hirohito came to power in 1926, revered by millions of Japanese as a demi-god. He presided over a war in which a generation of young men marched off hoping for the honor of being slaughtered in his name. In 1945, he was demoted to a mortal being, his property was confiscated and he narrowly escaped prosecution as a war criminal. In the following years after WWII, it was decided the imperial couple should become good-will ambassadors and they traveled abroad, where Hirohito voiced regret for the war. They visited Europe in 1971 and the United States in 1975. The latter included a trip to America's West Coast shrine known as Disneyland.

While at Disneyland, Japan's Emperor Hirohito and his wife Empress Nagako watch a special performance of America on Parade

During his visit to the United States and the Los Angeles area, the Emperor and his wife took a 40-mile motorcade journey to Disneyland where they were greeted by the most famous of the Walt Disney characters, Mickey Mouse. The Seven Dwarfs were close behind. The nearsighted Hirohito walked the Park with his unique, slight shuffle graze and maintained his solemn facial expression, but his wife broke into a broad smile often. The thousands of visitors to the Park that day were kept away from the official party during the 70-minute stop, during which Hirohito watched the elaborate America on Parade along Main Street, rode in a vintage automobile through Tomorrowland, and took a trip on the Disneyland Railroad making them the very first high-profile guests to ride in the new Lilly Belle Presidential Train Car.

The Emperor acquired a Mickey Mouse watch while at Disneyland that day and it became part of the lore that he wore it for years afterward. What interested the Emperor the most you might be wondering? That was Disneyland's diorama of primeval life in the Grand Canyon, depicting a variety of prehistoric animals — all of which seemed far more familiar to Hirohito, an avid natural scientist, than Disney's creations. Nonetheless, in the rare footage of the Emperor's 1975 visit to Disneyland seen below, Hirohito can be seen cracking smiles and, while at times seems to be out of his element, appears to be truly enjoying himself in the happiest place on earth...

(For your viewing pleasure, please be sure to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player at the top, left-hand corner of the page prior to watching the video below if you are on a desktop computer.)

Video compliments of Ken Stigen at


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true everyday.

You can find all of Keith's articles here.


  1. Good morning, My name is Julia Munro, and I wished to share a quirky little snippet of info surrounding this particular visit. You see the little boy sitting on the emperor's lap? That is indeed my dad, Michael Munro. Just wanted to let you know!

    1. WOW!! What a small world. What a great memory to have and thanks for sharing!!