Emperor Hirohito is, to those within monarchist circles, is a controversial figure to say the least. While during WW2 the Empire of Japan committed many atrocities during its fighting against Nationalist Chinese and Allied forces, it was always very ambiguous just how much the Showa Emperor was aware or in control of these actions. Although absolved of all responsibility by the American Occupation Forces during the resultant peace process, there were many who believed the Emperor should have been held to account for the actions of the Empire of Japan and suitably punished.
A recent auction may help to shed more light on the Showa Emperor’s perspective of the Second World War. At the auction held on Thursday, a transcript handwritten in pencil and ink has just been sold to a Mr Katsuya Takasu, a cosmetic surgeon. The notes contain the late Emperor’s recollections and accounts of the Second World War, in particular, the events that led up to Japan’s involvement in the conflict, and events such as the attack on Pearl Harbour and Japan’s surrender to the Allies.
The transcript takes the form of a series of answers given by the Emperor to five court officials, an interview that may have taken around eight hours or so to complete. The notes were compiled and translated by Hidenari Terasaki; a Japanese diplomat married to an American. The project was initiated with the approval and encouragement of General Douglas MacArthur, the superior officer of the American Occupational Forces of Japan. MacArthur believed that the key to securing peace and stability within Japan rested in the maintenance of the Emperor and the Japanese monarchy so as to create a sense of continuation, and as such he was keen for the Emperor to voice his thoughts on the war as a means of cleaning the image of the Imperial Court.
In the Showa Emperor’s view, the cause of Japanese involvement could be traced as early as the end of the First World War, when the Versailles Peace Conference infamously refused Japan’s proposal for a Declaration of Human Equality, as well as limits on Japanese immigration by the USA. The former proposal ostensibly sought a global recognition of racial equality. However, historians believe that the intent may have been more to legitimise Japan’s ambitions for an empire of its own within East Asia.
The Emperor also expressed his fears that, had he tried to prevent Japan from slipping into war with China and the West, the resultant turmoil and chaos between Japanese loyalists and nationalists would have plunged the Empire into a civil war.
Mr Takasu celebrated his winning of the auction with a tweet (“It’s me!” he jubilantly announced), before promising his followers that he intended to return the transcript to the Imperial Family immediately. Mr Takasu, in addition to his work as a cosmetic surgeon, is also a fairly noteworthy voice within right-wing Japanese circles and is quite famous for his views on Japanese history and its involvement during the Second World War.