Hirohito, emperor of Japan for over 60 years, who died on Saturday presided over a period of unprecedented upheaval in his nation's history - illustrated by the switch in his own status from divine ruler to constitutional figurehead.

Born the 124th "Imperial Son of Heaven" in a 2,600-year-old unbroken dynastic line and revered as a living god for the first half of his life, the emperor lost his divine status with Japan's defeat in World War II.But in the role of a limited constitutional figurehead stripped of political power Hirohito was a national symbol of unity and continuity during a period of unprecendented social and economic upheaval that made Japan one of the world's most envied industrial democracies.

The second half of his reign marked Japan's transformation into a powerhouse of advanced technology that earned it controversially large trade surpluses and high rank among the world's leading manufacturing and exporting nations.

Increasingly frail in his 80s, the stooping imperial figure with thick spectacles performed to the last his official duties in the seclusion of Tokyo's moated imperial palace.

Making increasingly rare public appearances, he devoted his spare time to walks in the palace grounds, watching sumo wrestling and soap operas on television and pursuing research into marine biology, a passion he retained from his youth.

Hirohito ascended the throne on Dec. 25, 1926, as a divine figure directly descended from the mythical sun goddess, Amaterasu Omikami. He named his era "Showa" (enlightened peace), ironic in retrospect as it included Japan's most ambitious military adventures, starting with Japan's invasion of China in the 1930s and spreading throughout Asia and the Pacific.

Many years and three million Japanese deaths later, World War II ended in ignominious defeat and the use of U.S. nuclear weapons against Japan in 1945. American forces occupied the country, becoming the first foreign conquerors to touch Japanese soil.

In 1946, Hirohito was forced to renounce his divinity, a status he had always viewed with skepticism. In the words of the post-war constitution drawn up by the Americans, his role was reduced to "the symbol of the state and the unity of the people."

In a survey by the Asahi newspaper in the 1980s, 84 percent of his subjects thought the emperor should remain in that role.

The main concern with postwar politics of a man never even made head of state was to avoid becoming a pawn in other leaders' maneuvers - exemplified, in the view of some political analysts, by the advancing of the 1986 anniversary celebrations of Hirohito's 60th year on the throne to coincide with his 85th birthday.

The government said the anniversary was brought forward to May to avoid the chill of winter, but some said the decision by Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone was an attempt to strengthen his own support ahead of expected early parliamentary elections.

The emperor's closest brush with international political controversy for many years came in September 1984, when he had to make a formal speech to visiting South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan. Chun insisted that the speech contain some apology for 40 years of Japanese domination over Korea before the war.

Too full an apology would have damaged Japanese pride, so the emperor said: "It indeed is regrettable, that there was an unfortunate past between us for a period in this century and I believe it should not be repeated."

Hirohito said he imposed his will only twice during his long reign. He demanded in 1936 that leaders of an abortive army coup be punished and, in 1945, he cast the decisive vote to accept the Allies' demand for Japan's unconditional surrender over which Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki's cabinet was split in half.

The first time the Japanese people heard his voice was in a nationwide broadcast announcing the decision, in which he declared: "We must bear the unbearable."

Hirohito was born on April 29, 1901, the first of four sons of Emperor Yoshihito and Empress Teimei. In accordance with court custom, he was removed from his parents at the age of three months and spent the next four years in the care of a royal relative.

In 1921, he broke with tradition by becoming the first Japanese crown prince to travel abroad. During his six months in Europe, he struck up a friendship with the Prince of Wales (later the Duke of Windsor).

Half a century later he recalled the tour as his first experience of freedom afer an upbringing as a "caged bird" in the seclusion of the imperial court.

Within three months of his return, Hirohito was appointed prince regent to look after affairs of state on behalf of an imperial father increasingly incapacitated by mental illness.

He married Princess Nagako Kuni in an arranged marriage in 1924 and became emperor in 1926, following his father's death.

Empress Nagako gave birth to four daughters, but Hirohito resisted the suggestion of court officials that he take a concubine to produce a son. The succession was assured when Crown Prince Akihito was born in 1933, followed by another son and daughter. Five children survive.

The controversy over Hirohito's role in World War II was never completely set aside either within Japan or abroad.

When Hirohito entered the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on September 27, 1945, for his first meeting with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of the occupying forces, he readily accepted full responsibility for Japan's conduct of the war.