Japan's emperor wanted to apologise for WWII

Emperor Hirohito said during his final years that he did not wish to live much longer as he would only experience more anguish at sad events and being blamed for his role in World War II.
Emperor Hirohito said during his final years that he did not wish to live much longer as he would only experience more anguish at sad events and being blamed for his role in World War II.PHOTO: AP

TOKYO • The late Emperor Hirohito had wanted to express his regret and remorse over World War II in 1952, but was stopped from doing so by the prime minister at the time, newly disclosed documents showed yesterday.

The records detailing exchanges between the Emperor, known posthumously as Emperor Showa, and Mr Michiji Tajima, the first grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, provide further evidence to support the view that the Emperor may have sought to apologise over the war.

The documents - disclosed by public broadcaster NHK, which obtained 18 notebooks from Mr Tajima's family - showed the Emperor saying on Jan 11, 1952, "I just think I really need to include the word 'remorse'" in a speech during the ceremony in May that year to mark Japan's regaining of independence.

An item dated Feb 20 that same year also quoted the Emperor as saying: "If we reflect, we have all done bad things, so please write well and include in the upcoming speech the meaning that we must all reflect and not repeat them."

But then Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, who was consulted by Mr Tajima, opposed the Emperor's plan to publicly express regret and remorse, saying it could prompt people to say he was responsible for starting the war.

Mr Yoshida also said that he no longer wanted the Emperor to mention the war or Japan's defeat.

His opinion was passed on to the Emperor through Mr Tajima.

The speech delivered by the Emperor at the ceremony ultimately did not include the words "regret" or "remorse".

The documents also showed the Emperor reflecting on the path towards Japan's defeat, saying "no one could stop the military", particularly by the time Mr Hideki Tojo was serving as the country's prime minister.

 
 
 

Mr Tajima held his post from 1949 to 1953 and recorded details of conversations with the Emperor in his notebooks.

Under the pre-war Meiji Constitution, the Emperor, once considered divine, had supreme control of the army and navy.

The Emperor today is defined as "the symbol of the state" with no political power.

A slew of other documents, including diaries of the Emperor's close aides, have shown that the Emperor was uneasy with Japan's drift to war but was too weak to alter the course of events.

A diary of late chamberlain Shinobu Kobayashi revealed last year that the ageing Emperor was haunted by talk of his wartime responsibility.

The Emperor said in his final years that he did not wish to live much longer, as he would only experience more anguish at being blamed for his role in the war.

"There is no point in living a longer life by reducing my workload. It would only increase my chances of seeing or hearing things that are agonising," said an entry dated April 7, 1987.

Emperor Hirohito died on Jan 7, 1989.

KYODO

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2019, with the headline 'Japan's emperor wanted to apologise for WWII'. Print Edition | Subscribe