A trove of documents detailing the private postwar views of the late Emperor Showa -- known in life as Emperor Hirohito -- in which he voiced his desire to express regret over World War II in a public statement, have left significant lessons to each and every member of the public.
Michiji Tajima, the first postwar grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, recorded exchanges between Emperor Showa and Tajima over about a five-year period.
The Emperor wished to speak about his regrets over World War II in a public address at a May 1952 ceremony marking the end of the Allied occupation of Japan. However, the documents show that his reference to regret was deleted from the draft of his statement because high-ranking officials of the Imperial Household Agency and then Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida voiced opposition to the idea.
Emperor Showa was quoted as saying in February 1952, "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 ..."
Other documents left by the former grand steward have shown that Emperor Showa had intended to express regret over the war and apologize to the public on the occasion of rulings on Class-A war criminals in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as the "Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal," in November 1948. One cannot help but wonder whether Emperor Showa later continued to explore the possibility of expressing regret over the war after his hope to do so was dashed at the time.
However, the Emperor's statements that surfaced recently in the documents suggest that he may have hoped that all of the Japanese people would reflect on their failure to restrain a runaway military rather than him expressing an apology to the public and other countries as emperor.
When asked about responsibility for the war at a news conference in 1975, Emperor Showa answered, "I don't understand such figure of speech very well." Although his determination not to have another war is respectable, the issue of war responsibility could not have been avoided if the Emperor had mentioned "regret" over the war.
Furthermore, Emperor Showa mentioned the need for Japan to rearm and revise the postwar Constitution on another day in February 1952. In May of the same year, the documents quote him as stating that he was completely against the restoration of the former Imperial Japanese forces.
These remarks indicate that Emperor Showa had maintained his awareness as a sovereign monarch while pursuing how he should act as the symbol of the state under the postwar Constitution.
Then Prime Minister Yoshida voiced opposition to incorporating "regret" in the address apparently for fear that it could revive calls for Emperor Showa to abdicate, an issue that was politically settled at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. At the time, Japan's postwar economic recovery was gaining momentum because of a special procurement demand in the Korean War, and the Japanese public was urging the government to adopt future-oriented policies.
How has Japan's restoration of its independence while avoiding expressing "regret" over the war due to a clash within the government and political considerations cast a shadow over Japan's postwar path? Emperor Showa's desire to seek an opportunity to express regret over the war is still asking many questions of the public.