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Lost edition of Mainichi Shimbun newspaper from day Japan declared war on US found

The newly discovered evening edition of the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun newspaper which announces the start of Japan's entry into the Pacific War is seen in Yahatahigashi Ward, Kitakyushu, on Dec. 5, 2020. The words "sixth printing" can be seen in the upper left corner. (Mainichi/Shinichi Okuda)

KITAKYUSHU -- An evening edition of the Mainichi Shimbun not present in the company's archives which announced the outbreak of the Pacific War on Dec. 8, 1941 (Japan time), was found stored at the home of an 82-year-old former company employee in this southwestern Japanese city.

    The paper, which was published by The Osaka Mainichi Newspapers Co.'s Kyushu District Office (now The Mainichi Newspapers Co.'s Kyushu Head Office), is the evening edition's sixth printing. The front page's top headline reads, "Empire (of Japan) finally declares war on U.S. and Britain." The page also includes reports on the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by the former Japanese military, and Emperor Hirohito's edict declaring war.

    Copies of this front page do not exist at the Mainichi Shimbun. Along with its value in showing how historic events were conveyed, it also offers insight into the part newspapers played in fostering the national mood for the war.

    A copy of the same evening edition of the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, which has been kept at The Mainichi Newspapers Co.'s Kyushu Head Office, is seen at the office in Kokurakita Ward, Kitakyushu, on Nov. 26, 2020. It says "third printing" on the top left, and does not mention where attacks were taking place or cite an Imperial declaration of war. (Mainichi/Shinichi Okuda)

    The deadlines for newspaper articles can differ by the region where they are distributed, and the sixth printing is the last that can go out, meaning the news on it would be the most up to date. At the Kyushu Head Office in Kokurakita Ward, only the third printing of that day's front page, sent out earlier than the discovered copy, is on file. As a result of the different printing times, those two versions have differing content and headlines even though they were the same day's newspapers.

    The discovered sixth printing is a special version, and has four pages, twice the normal number. The front page also has a vertical headline reading "Imperial edict promulgated: Japan entering state of war." Names of areas under attack by Japan are also given in the headlines, including Hawaii, the Philippines, Singapore and the Malay Peninsula (modern-day Malaysia), along with a statement from the commander in chief of dispatched Imperial forces advancing through China. A headline reads, "It is the wish of the peoples of east Asia to be freed from the U.S. and Britain."

    Conversely, the front page of the third printing that remains in the company's archives has a top headline reading, "Imperial Japanese Army and Navy at war with U.S. and Britain." There is nothing written about theaters of conflict, nor is the text from the Imperial proclamation of war printed. Although both papers report the start of the conflict in a dramatic fashion, there is no evidence of articles criticizing the decision in either of them.

    The sixth printing was kept on a bookshelf at the home of the paper's owner's late father. More than 60 years ago, the owner inherited the whole shelf from his father. Soon afterward, he found the newspaper just as it was, with no wrapping or anything. He said he realized it was a newspaper with important events on it, and kept it in his care.

    He learned about a citizens group in Kitakyushu's Yahatahigashi Ward compiling records on experiences of air raids in the area, and entrusted the paper to them. "I would be happy if it helps people to appreciate how many varied things were going on at the start of the war," he said.

    (Japanese original by Shinichi Okuda, Kyushu News Department)

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    The start of the Pacific War

    In the predawn hours of Dec. 8, 1941 Japan time, the then-Imperial Japanese Army landed on the British-ruled Malay Peninsula, now part of Malaysia, and the then-Imperial Japanese Navy launched an attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, which was a base for the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

    Twenty-one U.S. warships were sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor. Including civilians, there were some 2,400 casualties. Japan's declaration of war was late coming, and it was deemed an attack without previous and explicit warning, an act contravening the conditions of the Hague Convention.

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