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Japan

‘No point in living’: diary reveals Japanese emperor Hirohito’s anguish over second world war

Hirohito was deeply upset at the Pacific war, says newly released memoir written by ruler’s former chamberlain

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 August, 2018, 4:41pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 August, 2018, 9:10pm

Japan’s wartime emperor Hirohito believed there was “no point living” during the final years of his life, fearing he would continue to attract blame for his country’s involvement in the second world war, according to a newly released diary.

The diary is written by his then-chamberlain Shinobu Kobayashi, who alleges Hirohito voiced “anguish” over the Pacific war, a sentiment that contrasts with other recent accounts of his feelings about Japan’s entry into the conflict with the attack on Pearl Harbour.

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“There is no point in living a longer life by reducing my workload,” Hirohito said, according to the diary, passages from which have been published by the Kyodo news agency.

“It would only increase my chances of seeing or hearing things that are agonising,” the entry, dated 7 April 1987, added.

Hirohito died two years later, aged 87, after 62 years on the Chrysanthemum Throne.

The comments reportedly came in response to attempts by the Imperial Household Agency to reduce the ageing Hirohito’s workload after the death of his brother, Prince Takamatsu, two months earlier.

“I have experienced the deaths of my brother and relatives and have been told about my war responsibility,” he said.

Kobayashi attempted to ease the emperor’s concerns. “Given how the country has developed today from post-war rebuilding, it is only a page in history. You do not have to worry,” he told the emperor, according to Kyodo’s account of the diary.

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Determining the extent of Hirohito’s involvement in the war is a deeply sensitive subject in Japan. Some believe he should be held responsible for the country’s misadventures in Asia, while others claim he had no influence over the wartime militarist government.

Another recently released account suggests that Hirohito supported the decision to launch the attack on Pearl Harbour.

A memo written by an aide to the then prime minister, Hideki Tojo, quoted Tojo as saying Hirohito appeared “at ease and unshakeable” after he had been briefed hours before the attack on 7 December 1941.

There is no point in living a longer life by reducing my workload
Japanese Emperor Hirohito

Other accounts claim Hirohito had earlier warned that an attack on the US would be “self-destructive”.

Despite calls for Hirohito to be tried as a war criminal, the US occupation authorities allowed him to remain on the throne, believing he would be of greater use as a unifying symbol as Japan embraced democracy after the war.

The release this week of Kobayashi’s diary comes as Hirohito’s son, Emperor Akihito, prepares to become the first Japanese monarch to abdicate for 200 years.

Akihito has become an enormously popular figure since succeeding his father, using his role to promote reconciliation with former victims of Japanese wartime aggression. Earlier this month, he expressed “deep remorse” over Japan’s wartime role at an event to mark the 73rd anniversary of the end of the Pacific conflict.

After decades in the shadows, Japan’s military has become more visible than at any time since the war under the country’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

In 2015, he pushed a controversial law through parliament allowing Japan’s forces to engage in collective self-defence – or coming to the aid of an ally under attack.

Abe, who will become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister if, as expected, he wins next month’s election for the presidency of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, is determined to revise Japan’s post-war constitution to recognise the self-defence forces (SDF) as the country’s bona fide military.

He plans to add a paragraph to the war-renouncing Article 9 to confirm the constitutionality of the SDF – a change opposed by his main rival, the former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba, who said Abe had not allowed enough time for public debate.