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Emperor Hirohito sought post-WWII political input, expression of war regret: new docs

Emperor Showa, known as Emperor Hirohito during his reign.

TOKYO -- A trove of documents detailing the private postwar views and statements of the late Emperor Showa -- known in life as Emperor Hirohito -- not included in the Imperial Household Agency's official history of his reign has surfaced.

The documents record exchanges between Emperor Hirohito and Michiji Tajima, the agency's first postwar Grand Steward. Among the revelations found in the handwritten texts is that the Emperor wished to speak about his regret over World War II in a public address at a May 1952 ceremony marking the end of the Allied occupation of Japan.

Before and after the country regained its sovereignty, Emperor Hirohito apparently also told Tajima that he thought Japan needed to rearm and to amend the postwar Constitution, indicating he continued to express political opinions even after the office of emperor was made solely symbolic under that same Constitution.

A collection of documents including some kept by former Imperial Household Agency Grand Steward Michiji Tajima detailing his exchanges with the late Emperor Showa (known in life as Emperor Hirohito) is seen in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on Aug. 19, 2019. (Mainichi/Naotsune Umemura)

Tajima's surviving family provided the documents -- a collection of notebooks and memoranda titled "audience records" spanning nearly five years -- to public broadcaster NHK, which unveiled parts of the papers to other news media outlets including the Mainichi Shimbun on Aug. 19. Tajima was made grand steward of the Imperial Household Office -- the predecessor to the current agency -- in 1948 and began recording his dealings with Emperor Hirohito the following year.

"These are first-rate (historical) materials, as they record Emperor Showa expressing his true opinions in his true, unvarnished voice," commented Nihon University modern Japanese history professor Takahisa Furukawa.

On the message to the Japanese people at the end of the Allied occupation, Tajima records the Emperor telling him on Jan. 11, 1952 -- when work on a draft speech was beginning in earnest -- "I absolutely wish to include words of regret (in the speech)." On Feb. 20 the same year, Tajima records the Emperor saying, "Though this is beyond my purview, (during the war) order was overthrown from below in the military, in the government and among the people, and the brazenness of the military was overlooked. Everyone has negative things to reflect on, so my wish is for everyone to regret these things so they will not be repeated." It is thought that "order overthrown from below" was intended to mean the failure to restrain Japan's military during the conflict.

In the end, the exact term "regret" was removed from the Emperor's address after internal discussions at the Imperial Household Agency. Attempts were made to insert a section on repentance for the war, but this too was dropped in the face of opposition from then Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida.

That changes were made to the draft speech was revealed in the July 2003 issue of the literary monthly Bungeishunju by French literature scholar Kyoko Kato, who published Tajima's memoires. However, the newly revealed documents are the first to show Emperor Hirohito actually commenting on the subject.

Michiji Tajima, the first postwar grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency.

Also in the "audience records" are comments by the Emperor suggesting he felt a sense of crisis over the security situation during the Cold War between the United States and the then Soviet Union. On Feb. 11, 1952, about five months after the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty between Japan and the western Allies, Emperor Hirohito is recorded as saying, "I believe that it would be a good idea to squarely and openly amend the part about armament," indicating he wished to see Japan change its new pacifist Constitution and rearm.

However, he also stated that he was dead-set against the restoration of the former Imperial Japanese forces. On May 8, 1952, shortly after Japan emerged from the postwar occupation, Tajima reports Emperor Hirohito saying, "It is absolutely undesirable for the previous military clique to rise again through rearmament. However, considering the threat of aggression presented by (the Soviet Union), it is unthinkable that (Japan) would not make new defensive military preparations."

Emperor Hirohito apparently sought to communicate these views to Prime Minister Yoshida, but Tajima records that he advised the Emperor that this was "forbidden." The exchange suggests that Emperor Hirohito did not fully understand that he was excluded entirely from politics by the postwar Constitution, and that he was searching for what it meant to be a purely symbolic monarch.

The documents furthermore reveal that, even after Emperor Hirohito told GHQ occupation administration head Gen. Douglas MacArthur in November 1948 that he wished to stay on the throne, the Emperor referred to the possibility that he would abdicate.

(Japanese original by Takeshi Wada, City News Department)

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