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Memory of war drives Emperor Akihito's persistent wish for peace

Emperor Akihito, age 10, conducts physical training with his classmates at a facility attached to the Tamozawa Imperial Villa where he was evacuated to in the city of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture north of Tokyo. (Mainichi)

Emperor Akihito will make a statement at the last annual memorial service of the war dead in the Heisei era to be held on Aug. 15 when World War II ended for Japan 73 years ago. In his past statements at the memorial, the Emperor has consoled the victims' souls and sought peace, and people close to him say his stance is rooted in his personal memory of war he experienced as a child. His former schoolmates say the Emperor has come to feel strongly about those killed, based on his own wartime experiences.

On Dec. 8, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, Emperor Akihito was a second-year pupil at Gakushuin Primary School, and he learned about the start of Japan's war against the United States over the radio.

Since then, the Emperor, then the crown prince, was requested to inspect military facilities to shore up the nation's support for the war. He visited the Imperial Japanese Army's school to train aircraft technicians in the city of Tachikawa in western Tokyo with his classmates in October 1941. A year later, he inspected the army's air defense and tank schools in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, and then in June 1943, he toured the Imperial Japanese Navy's air corps in Kasumigaura and Tsuchiura in Ibaraki Prefecture northeast of the capital. Newspapers reported on these moves.

Kazuo Sakaki, 84, who accompanied the Emperor on these visits, said, "He was just a child, but he tried to cheer up soldiers and people who were supporting the war efforts."

As the war's prospects continued to worsen for Japan, the Emperor had to evacuate to the city of Numazu in the prefecture of Shizuoka west of Tokyo in May 1944 when he was a fifth grader, and two months later, to the city of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture north of Tokyo. The boy moved again to the mountains of Okunikko in the same prefecture in July 1945, and saw the end of the war on Aug. 15 of that year.

He listened to the radio broadcast of Emperor Showa's announcement of the end of the war with Shigeto Hozumi, Grand Master of the Crown Prince's Household.

Sakaki's father Tadatsune, who passed away in 1995, was a chamberlain to the Crown Prince. Tadatsune's journal, which Sakaki keeps, described the situation back then as "everyone was shedding tears of sorrow as we listened to the jewel voice (Emperor Showa's broadcast)."

In his December 1993 press conference for his birthday, Emperor Akihito recalled what it was like three months after the end of the war, when he was back in Tokyo from Nikko where he had evacuated. "It was something unimaginable from the present-day Tokyo, as tin-roofed huts dotted the burned-down landscape," said the Emperor.

In 1999, he told reporters that he grew up without knowing a time when Japan was not fighting a war. He revealed that his oldest memory was the Marco Polo Bridge incident of July 1937 when the war between Japan and China began. He was aged 3 at that time.

The Emperor has repeatedly mentioned his deep thoughts on peace. Sakaki thinks that behind those remarks are "his sense of responsibility for soldiers who were encouraged by His Majesty to go to war and got killed."

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Takashima, City News Department)

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