The Tojo family had kept silent for a long time. But not any longer.
Born in 1939, Yuko Tojo, granddaughter of wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo, is now speaking out against the postwar Allied tribunal that convicted him as a Class-A war criminal and sentenced him to hang.
She recalled that before his execution in 1948, Hideki Tojo had urged his family to never argue back or make excuses even if others treat them badly because of the responsibility he bore for the war Japan entered into in the 1930s and lost in 1945.
For a long time, Yuko Tojo abided her grandfather’s wishes. Indeed, defending Japanese war criminals, in particular the notorious Tojo, had long been a postwar taboo, she said.
But today she feels differently, saying more and more people in and out of Japan are reviewing the role Tojo played and the meaning of the Tokyo tribunal, which she insists has distorted the Japanese people’s views toward history.
Breaking a long silence, she appeared on a TV news program Sunday to discuss the recent protests surrounding Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s 2.5 million war dead as well as 14 Class-A war criminals, including Tojo.
China has demanded that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stop paying annual visits to the shrine, saying his trips indicate that Japanese leaders have yet to search their souls over Japan’s responsibility for the war.
“Japan didn’t fight wars of aggression. Only China now says so,” Yuko, president of the Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Environment Solution Institute, claimed during an interview with The Japan Times.
She argued that Japan fought a war of self-defense against the United States and other Western powers.
In invading China, Japan only tried to defend interests it won after World War I just as many Western powers were doing in China, she argued.
“You have to start from the Opium War (in the mid-19th century) when you think about this topic,” she said.
Some politicians, hoping to avoid diplomatic rows with China, have urged Yasukuni Shrine to enshrine the 14 Class-A war criminals at a different site.
But the Tojo family rejected the idea for the sake of the whole nation, not for the sake of Hideki Tojo himself, Yuko said.
After a 1985 official visit to the shrine by then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone caused an international row, she said, Upper House member Tadashi Itagaki asked seven surviving families of the war criminals to sign a petition that they be separated from the shrine.
The seven war criminals, including Tojo, are those who were executed and were the most symbolic and well-known wartime leaders.
Relatives of six of the seven agreed and signed the petition, but an uncle of Yuko, representing the Tojo family, refused to sign, she said.
“If he had signed it, it would have meant that we would admit it was a war of aggression. It was a matter for the whole nation, not a matter for individuals, so he didn’t sign it,” she said, adding she agree with the uncle’s opinion and decision.
She believes the tribunal was a one-sided event where the winner judged the loser at its discretion.
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, initiated by the U.S.-led Allied powers, branded Hideki Tojo one of the main villains and convicted him of waging a war of aggression and committing crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.
The tribunal created and applied “crimes against peace” to judge the loser only after the war ended, although this concept, she maintained, had not been established in the international community.
Much of her argument is similar to those that have been repeated by conservative scholars and relatives of the war dead throughout the postwar decades. But many of Japan’s younger generations also started in the late 1990s to defend the war Japan waged in the 1930s and 1940s and criticizing China.
She said she held her tongue partly due to Tojo’s wishes and the continuing taboo against defending or even discussing the man, who was prime minister when Japan launched its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
She changed her mind in 1992, when new records of the words of the Emperor Showa were published that showed his deep trust in Tojo.
She then wrote and published a memoir of her family, bringing them into the public spotlight for the first time in a long time.