TOKYO -- The late Emperor Showa -- known in life as Emperor Hirohito -- pondered deeply about abdicating in light of his responsibility in World War II, it has emerged from a trove of documents detailing the private postwar views and statements of the Emperor.
In the documents, Emperor Hirohito was quoted as saying, "If the people wish for my abdication, I would not hesitate to do so at all," by Michiji Tajima, the first postwar grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, in late 1951 after Tokyo signed the Treaty of Peace with Japan, also known as the San Francisco Peace Treaty. The newly disclosed documents show records of exchanges between the Emperor and Tajima.
Although Emperor Hirohito's intention to abdicate has already been revealed in a diary by his aide and other documents, it has heretofore been said that he stopped short of stepping down around the time the ruling was handed down in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as the Tokyo Trial, in November 1948.
Koichi Kido, who served as interior minister, wrote in his diary in August 1945 that Emperor Hirohito asked him if his abdication could stop those held responsible for the war from being extradited to the Allied Powers that occupied Japan after the war. Controversy over the Emperor's abdication reached its height around the time the Tokyo Trial verdict was imminent, with foreign media outlets reporting on talks about his retirement.
But it has been commonly believed that the Emperor conveyed his intention not to abdicate to GHQ occupation administration head Gen. Douglas MacArthur at the time of the November 1948 ruling.
The annals of Emperor Showa, or "Showa Tenno Jitsuroku," which record his words and deeds over his 87-year life, also states in a section for July 1948 that "(Emperor Showa) indicates his intention to stay on as the Emperor and take his responsibility."
According to the newly revealed documents, however, Emperor Hirohito hinted at the possibility of his abdication in December 1949, stating, "When the treaty of peace is concluded and discussion about my abdication arises again, I could think about abdication if the situation permits."
Eyeing the possibility of handing over the throne, Emperor Hirohito even proposed to Tajima that his son and then Crown Prince Akihito (currently Emperor Emeritus Akihito) travel abroad at an early date, according to the documents.
On Aug. 22, 1951, the month before the San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed, Emperor Hirohito is quoted as saying, "In my case, taking responsibility by leaving my position would be easy as it means I can lead my life as I like." This statement came four months before his aforementioned remark that he would not hesitate to abdicate.
Yukio Ito, professor emeritus at Kyoto University who is specialized in modern Japanese history and authored "Showa Tenno-den" (A biography of Emperor Showa), commented, "Emperor Showa's true intentions behind his statements cannot be known unless it becomes clear whether or not he took concrete actions toward his abdication. These statements are not enough to overturn our common belief. His remarks may have come out of his true opinion or complaints that he casually confided to the grand steward, whom he put his faith in, while accepting the realities."
Ito continued, "It (the documents) reveals that Emperor Showa apparently continued to contemplate his wartime responsibility and abdication seriously. These documents are really intriguing materials that shed more objective and stereoscopic light on the humanness of Emperor Showa."