New documents show Japan’s wartime emperor had deep regrets

Japanese public broadcaster NHK has obtained documents showing that former Emperor Hirohito repeatedly felt sorry about World War II and tried, unsuccessfully, to express his feelings by using the word “remorse” in a 1952 speech.

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The records of conversations with Hirohito spanning several years were kept by Michiji Tajima, a top Imperial Household Agency official who took office after the war.

NHK obtained 18 notebooks through Tajima’s family and aired a special program this past weekend.

Although it’s not surprising that Hirohito had deep regrets about the war, the documents highlight how painfully strong such emotions had been.

The Imperial Household Agency on Tuesday declined to comment on the report.

As he was preparing his 1952 speech at a ceremony to commemorate Japan’s return to independence with the end of the U.S. occupation, Hirohito insisted to Tajima that he “must include the word remorse” in his speech, according to NHK.

That wish was relayed to then-Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, who advised against it, NHK said.

Yoshida’s views were that people needed to look to the future and any reference sounding like an apology would give the wrong impression.

World War II, which ended with Japan’s 1945 surrender following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was fought in the name of the emperor, who was considered divine.

After the war, the U.S. occupation allowed the emperor to stay on, although without any political powers but as a symbol of the state.

The documents show that Hirohito felt that, instead of surrender, he wished he had been able to end the war earlier. He also privately expressed horror at the atrocities committed by the Japanese military, according to the documents. But he also told Tajima that the military was so powerful that he couldn’t influence it.

Hirohito died of cancer in 1989 at age 87. He was succeeded by his son Akihito, who recently abdicated, passing the Chrysanthemum Throne to his son Naruhito. Both Akihito and Naruhito have publicly expressed remorse for the war.

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