Japan emperor's record may shed light on his war role

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's imperial palace plans to disclose in full a soon-to-be-completed official record of the late emperor Hirohito's life, possibly shedding some light on the contentious issue of his disputed role in World War II.

The Imperial Household Agency is expected to finish in late March a 24-year project to compile the record, an agency official said Friday, adding that the work will be submitted to reigning Emperor Akihito, the eldest son of Hirohito, in April or later.

Grand Steward Noriyuki Kazaoka, who heads the agency, told Japanese media on Thursday that he did not want to see any part of the record "blacked out" from public eye.

"Some people may think that what could not be released 30 years ago can be released with the passage of time," he was quoted as saying by the daily Yomiuri Shimbun. "We wish to include as much as possible."

A similar official record on emperor Hirohito's father, emperor Taisho, was made public between 2002 to 2011 with many parts redacted, in what was claimed to be an attempt to protect "personal information", but which drew criticism from researchers.

Emperor Hirohito served as Japan's commander-in-chief during its stomp across Asia in the 1930s and 1940s. He was a man who was revered as a demigod of Shintoism and in whose name the vicious and acquisitive war was prosecuted.

It was him that announced to the war-weary public in 1945 that Japan had been defeated and should expect to be occupied. His historic radio broadcast, which marked the first time most Japanese had heard his voice, called on them to "bear the unbearable".

A deal with the US-led occupying force kept him on the throne on condition he renounced his divinity. Over the following decades as the nominal head of a constitutional monarchy, he oversaw the rebirth of a pacifist nation that roared to economic life.

He died in January 1989 aged 87.

Critics charge that emperor Hirohito had the blood of millions on his hands for what they say was his control over Japan's brutal war. They point to the power he had to end the conflict with that broadcast and say he could have chosen to finish it sooner.

But supporters say he was a puppet of a military government, a figurehead that out-of-control generals could invoke to urge their soldiers through the horrors of warfare.

The publication of the diaries of aides and medical records, as well as information gleaned through unpublished private documents and from interviews with former officials will be carefully watched for what it may reveal about emperor Hirohito's role.

Attention will be focused on whether there will be "new documents" that shed light on emperor Hirohito's decisions before and during the war, as well as in the US-led occupation of Japan until 1952.

The imperial agency started compiling the emperor Hirohito record under a 16-year plan in 1990. But the scheme was extended twice due to the discovery of new historical materials and delays in work.

The record will be made available in its entirety for inspection on request after it is finished and will be published in installments over several years by a publisher chosen from among bidders, the official said.