Emperor Akihito on Monday celebrated his 80th birthday, becoming the second emperor to have passed this milestone while on the throne, following his father, Emperor Showa. The Emperor, who ascended to the throne on Jan. 7, 1989, has been trying to be true to the spirit of the war-renouncing Constitution and to be with people in both joy and hardship. We extend our heartfelt congratulations to him and pray that he will be blessed with good health and longevity.
At a news conference on Dec. 18, the Emperor expressed his deep thought about war and peace. Asked to tell any events that have left special impression on him, he said at the very beginning, “I would say that what stands out most in my mind is the Second World War.” Now that the memories of war are rapidly disappearing, it is all the more important for Japanese to deeply think about the message the Emperor tried to convey — especially so for Diet members, the prime minister and his Cabinet members, most of whom have not experienced war but who have the power to influence the fundamental direction of Japan.
Rightfully the Emperor mentioned not only the war that started with Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 8, 1941, but also Japan’s war in China, which began in the 1930s. It should be remembered that Japan’s undeclared war of aggression in China with no clear purposes declared led to its reckless and devastating war with the United States, Britain and the Netherlands.
The Emperor summarized the wretchedness of war by saying, “About 3.1 million Japanese people are said to have lost their lives in that war. It still pains me deeply to think that so many people, who must have had various dreams and hopes for the future, lost their lives at a young age.” While he was the Crown Prince, he cited the following days as ones to remember: Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, when the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bombs; Aug. 15, 1945, the day of Japan’s surrender; and June 23, 1945, when the Imperial Japanese armed forces ceased organized resistance in the Battle of Okinawa. It is said that the Emperor offers prayer on these days every year. The Emperor’s selection of June 23 along with the other days is testimony of his keen historical awareness of the suffering that war brings to ordinary citizens and of the fact that the Japanese military used Okinawa as a “sacrificial stone” to delay America’s full-scale attack on Japan’s main islands. He visited Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa in the summer of 1995, and Saipan in June 2005, to console the souls of war victims.
Japanese should ponder on what the Emperor said about the Constitution and postwar reforms: “After the war, Japan was occupied by the allied forces, and based on peace and democracy as values to be upheld, established the Constitution of Japan, undertook various reforms and built the foundation of Japan that we know today.”
After the 3/11 disasters, the Emperor and Empress Michiko visited the disaster areas many times. In October, he said in front of Minamata disease victims that he would like to work toward “creating a society where people can live upholding the truth.” The Emperor continues to turn his thoughts to the socially weak. We hope that his official duties will be lightened so that he can concentrate on activities he believes are the most important.