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EDITORIAL | Emperor Showa’s ‘Deep Remorse’ Over War Not Incongruous with Seeking Rearmament




Documents detailing conversations spanning the years from 1949 to 1953 between Emperor Hirohito, known posthumously as The Emperor Showa, and Michiji Tajima, the first grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency after World War II, have recently been brought to light.


The documents entitled “Haietsuki (Records of Audiences with the Emperor),” were written down by Tajima in a total of 18 notebooks over the years he served the emperor. More than 600 exchanges between the Emperor Showa and Tajima were privately recorded during that period.


The conversations with the emperor at the time of the Allied Occupation of Japan after a slew of devastation during World War II have been recorded vividly enough to make us feel as though we are hearing the real voice of the Emperor Showa. It can safely be said that the records are among the highest quality primary historical materials of those turbulent times.



The volumes of documents were presented to the NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corp.) by the family of Tajima, who died in 1968. The public broadcaster made a portion of the documents available to the public.


The records cover the drafting of the emperor’s speech for the May 1952 ceremony to mark the return of Japan’s sovereignty under the San Francisco Peace Treaty. According to an item in the Tajima documents dated January 11 of the same year, the emperor strongly wished to express his contrition for the war in the speech, saying: “I think it absolutely necessary for me to include the word ‘remorse’ in the speech.”


The processes through which the expression of remorse was deleted from the draft has now been made clear. The documents say then-prime minister Shigeru Yoshida and other government officials opposed the emperor’s suggestion and had the statement of remorse for the war removed from the draft.


Another entry in the documents dated July 26, 1951, quotes the Emperor Showa as expressing mixed feelings about Japan’s recovery of its sovereignty, describing it as “a thing that is not deserving of delight.” The record mentions his concern for the loss of Japanese territory and the great many war victims, including those who were killed or injured in the war as well as those who had yet to be repatriated after the war’s end. They reveal much about the emperor’s character of putting the state of Japan and the Japanese people above all else.



In addition to his regret and remorse over the war, the emperor also made references to the military and the government as well as the populace before and during the war, according to a note by Tajima dated February 20, 1952. It reads: “Tyrannies of the military, such as those comparable to ‘gekokujo’ (an inversion of the social order in which lowly people reigned over the elite during Japan’s Period of Warring States from the middle of the 15th century to the early years of the 17th century), were left unchecked.”


In the same entry, the emperor stressed, “We all must take stock of ourselves and seriously take to heart the awareness of never repeating [the mistakes].”


Considering the personal reflections of the emperor as cited above, it is profoundly significant that he mentioned the need for rearmament and revision of the Constitution just as Japan was about to regain its sovereignty in 1952. 


He said: “There is no way that this country might see a resurgence of the old style of militarism swayed by military cliques as a result of rearmament, yet I believe we cannot do without any new military preparedness for defensive purposes as long as there really are threats of this country being subject to aggression.” (Tajima documents, entry dated May 8, 1952)



Referring to the need for constitutional revision, the emperor discussed his belief that the Constitution “should be revised openly and squarely only for the sake of enabling this country to be rearmed, without touching upon revisions to any other provisions at all,” according to the notation by Tajima dated February 11 of the same year.


The entries show that, in fact, the emperor’s remorse for the war was never incongruous with his views seeking rearmament.   


Emperor Showa wanted to convey his down-to-earth perspectives on national security to prime minister Yoshida because of his heartfelt wishes for ensuring the peace of the nation and the safety of the people.


Article 4 of the Constitution stipulates that the emperor “shall not have powers related to government.” However, the emperor is undoubtedly a constitutional monarch under the existing Constitution.



It is difficult to comprehend how the supreme law would be interpreted as prohibiting an emperor from confidentially conveying his views to a prime minister, as opposed to issuing an order. It is regrettable that the Emperor Showa’s wishes were not realized due to the remonstration of the Imperial Household Agency’s Grand Steward Tajima.




(Click here to read the column in its original Japanese.)


Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun