National

Prince Akishino airs anti-war convictions ahead of 49th birthday

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prince Akishino, second in line to the Chrysanthemum Throne, told a recent news conference that he is convinced wars should never be fought again and wants to keep the collective memories of World War II alive, according to the transcript released Sunday by the Imperial Household Agency.

The prince said his parents, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, repeatedly explained to him how the war affected Japan, which in turn “strongly convinced” him and his wife, Princess Kiko, that “war should never be repeated again,” the transcript showed.

“We ourselves have not experienced the war, so there is a limit as to how accurately we can tell our children about what happened at the time,” the prince said at the news conference, also attended by the princess.

The press conference was held on Tuesday before his 49th birthday on Sunday.

“In that sense, too, we believe the accounts of (Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko) give precious opportunities for our children” to learn about the war, he said.

His comment may be another sign that the Imperial family has what can be described as rather liberal, pacifist opinions, although they would never be allowed to say so in public. The Constitution allows the family to engage only in nonpolitical ceremonies, and the expression of any of their own political opinions has been strictly prohibited.

But Emperor Akihito surprised some observers when he held his pre-birthday press conference on Dec. 18 last year. In it, he said the postwar Constitution was established “based on peace and democracy as values to be upheld.”

The Emperor’s comment upset some nationalists because it could, although vague and ambiguous, be interpreted that he is indirectly arguing that the current Constitution should be protected. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other right-leaning politicians have argued the pacifist Constitution should be drastically revised because, they say, it was forcibly imposed by the U.S.-led Occupation.

“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,” the Emperor said.

“I have profound gratitude for the efforts made by the Japanese people at the time who helped reconstruct and improve the country devastated by the war. I also feel that we must not forget the help extended to us in those days by Americans with an understanding of Japan and Japanese culture,” he said.

It has been widely believed that Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa and the father of the current Emperor, disliked extreme nationalists. After it was reported in the 1970s that Yasukuni Shrine secretly enshrined several Class-A war criminals from World War II, among them wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo, he stopped visiting the war-linked shrine. But he never explained why in public. Emperor Akihito has not visited the shrine, either.