Emperor asks nation to learn from WWII as it looks to future


Emperor Akihito released his “New Year Thoughts” on Thursday, issuing a call to learn from history in the year that marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

“I think it is most important for us to take this opportunity to study and learn from the history of this war, starting with the Manchurian Incident of 1931, as we consider the future direction of our country,” the 81-year-old Emperor said in the statement released via the Imperial Household Agency.

“This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, which cost many people their lives. Those who died on the battlefields, those who died in the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those who died in the air raids on Tokyo and other cities — so many people lost their lives in this war,” he said.

The Emperor and Empress Michiko plan to visit Palau in early April to console the souls of the war dead. The couple visited Saipan for the same purpose in June 2005 on the 60th anniversary of the war’s end.

The Emperor also mentioned the heavy snow, torrential rain and the eruption of Mount Ontake in 2014.

“My thoughts go out to those who lost their loved ones and their homes in those disasters,” he said.

As for the ongoing 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, he said: “It pains me to think that there are still so many people who cannot return to the places they used to live because of radioactive contamination and so many who face the prospect of a cold, harsh winter in temporary housing.”

The couple plan to attend a ceremony in Kobe on Jan. 17 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake and a ceremony for the 2011 disasters on March 11.

The Emperor and Empress received New Year’s greetings at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Thursday from the rest of the Imperial family, lawmakers and the ambassadors of around 120 countries.

“As a new year begins, I wish for the prosperity of the nation and the happiness of its people,” the Emperor said.

Among those offering greetings were Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, whose daughter Princess Kako joined the greeting ceremony for the first time after turning 20 last month.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his Cabinet ministers, the heads of the Diet’s two chambers and the chief justice of the Supreme Court were among officials who extended congratulations to the Emperor and Empress.

  • Ron NJ

    I had high hopes upon seeing the title of this article, but should have known better – nary a mention of the POWs and civilians that were tortured, tested upon, and executed by the Japanese in direct contravention to the Geneva conventions, the millions of Chinese civilians who died as a result of the invasion of China, or the women subjected to sexual slavery, but of course you’ll mention the comparatively few civilians who died in the atomic bombings that brought about the end of the war and prevented the literal millions of casualties that would have occurred in an invasion of the home islands. Just more typical victim complex rhetoric from those who were belligerents in one of the most destructive wars in human history but can’t seem to accept that fact – business as usual in Japan, sadly.

    • Iain Macpherson

      Most of those millions that would have been killed in an invasion would have been soldiers not civilians – huge difference.

      • Ron NJ

        Care to cite a source stating that military fatalities would be higher than civilian had Downfall gone ahead? Richard Frank (ISBN 978-0-679-41424-7) notes the office of the Secretary of War estimating 5-10 million Japanese fatalities (and 400-800k Allied); since there weren’t even a million Japanese soldiers in the entirety of the home islands, the only population left is “Japanese civilian”. Okinawa showed us that civilian fatalities as high as 10-30% were possible, though I don’t think Shockley was assuming anything close to that (5-10 million would have been closer to 3-7% of the population).

      • JimmyJM

        True. John Dower notes U.S. estimates at about a million Allied soldiers. MacArthur put the estimate at 400-800,000. But Ketsu-go would have formed civilian suicide battalions. The originators of Ketsu-go could not imagine a Japanese society that had surrendered so it would be better if the entire Japanese race ceased to exist. Without the atomic bombs, the slaughter on both sides would have been incredible.

      • Iain Macpherson

        Sounds like you and Jimmy have read your history on this, and I just know that the numbers of bombing-related Japanese civilian deaths are highly disputed – though they range as high as a million. Surprised to hear such high projected numbers of civilian deaths if there had been a land invasion, unless they were figuring civvies being targeted for genocide! As for civilian suicide battalions, I’d count them as combatants, so long as they were in fact behaving as such. And it definitely seems the less cowardly and criminal thing for the U.S. military to do, if it didn’t want to fight its way across the Japans, would have been to settle for some kind of *conditional* surrender instead of knowingly slaughtering civilians en masse, from the air.

      • Ron NJ

        If you want to count civilians as young as 12 years old pressed into service with bamboo spears and farming implements as legitimate combatants, that’s up to you – it doesn’t change the fact that it is very likely that millions and millions of Japanese people would have died in the invasion from ground combat, bombing, famine, suicide, and atrocities committed by both sides. If giving a junior high school student an awl and telling him to go soak up American bullets with his body allows you to move his death from the “civilian” to “military” column then that’s just a factor of accounting methodology rather than reality – he’s still a kid who was sacrificed for a war he didn’t ask for, a victim of indoctrination and his government.

      • Iain Macpherson

        Yes, my ‘methodology’ there is awful, no doubt about that. But the kid w a pointy stick still would have had a better chance in combat against a soldier than against firebombs or a nuke. Or at least, (s)he could have gone out with a good banzai.

  • Carmen Sterba

    I believe what the emperor said does mean something. He is not his father. Instead, he used the words, “I think it is most important for us to take this opportunity to study and learn from the history of this war, starting with
    the Manchurian Incident of 1931, as we consider the future direction of our country.” In a country where strong statements are often veiled, his emphasis is not vague. He wants peace not war.

    I wish Prime Minister Abe will listen to the nuance of Emperor Akihito’s words.

    • JimmyJM

      You are right. It is all in the nuances. The Emperor cannot issue a formal apology, that is for the government to do. But he can imply that he would like to see that happen. Unfortunately, the government will most likely re-interpret his words to suit their own agenda including denying the Nanjing massacre and the existence of government sponsored sex slaves. But we can hope.

      • Carmen Sterba

        I agree. There is always a glimmer of hope.

    • KenjiAd

      The current Emperor, Akihito, said something similar 10 years ago during interview. He said,

      From the beginning of Showa era to the end of war in the 20th year of Showa, Japan almost never had a peaceful period.
      I think it is extremely important to try to properly understand the history of this past together with the following period, important for Japanese people themselves and also for Japanese to interact with people in the world.

      As you probably know, the Emperor is defined as just a symbol and is prohibited from making any political statement. The comments like above are in deed testing the limit of what he can say.

      Ten years ago when he made the comment above, the mainstream Japanese media largely ignored it. Even this time, except for Japan Times, the major media don’t seem to be treating it as big news.

      This time around, one should note that he specifically mentioned the Manchurian Incident of 1931. This is important because it suggests that the Emperor correctly recognizes it as the beginning of Japan’s invasion to China.

      Since everything he says has to go through the censorship by Imperial Household Agency, I am actually pleasantly surprised that this sort of comment got through the Agency.

      Japan cannot truly address the war history without addressing the biggest taboo – war responsibility of the former Emperor Hirohito. So far, all the major political parties and all the major media in Japan avoided the discussion of Hirohito’s war responsibility. That’s a shame.

      • Carmen Sterba

        I also thought the mention of the Manchurian Incident was worthwhile.

  • Ron NJ

    Ah, that makes torturing and murdering people okay then. Thanks for clearing that up!

  • BrainOverBullet

    Abe, is very big problem for future Japan.

  • Thank God that there is a country called Germany on this planet! If the Japanese knew what that country had done in the past 70 years regarding the “Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung” (dealing with the past crimes), they would find that there is a light year between the Germas and them. BTW: Akihito’s adress in composed of a few sentences, and the topic regarding the past has merely one. Richard v. Weizsaecker, the former president of Germeny made a speech on May 5th 1985 which lasted a half hour and accusedhis compatriots of having willingly done nothing or even helped Nazis during and before the WWII, although he is also a symbolic figure in the German politcs!

    • JimmyJM

      Yes, the Japanese people of that era could be accused of “having willingly done nothing or even helped” but the big difference is the Emperor. Remember, he was god on Earth. The supreme being to the Japanese. The government claimed to speak for him and they did (at least until the near end). To say something against the government was to say something against the Emperor. Hitler was a politician but the Emperor was way above such things. The average farmer in his rice field believed what the government told him. Only the intellects in the cities questioned the government’s audacity. They were given jail sentences or worse for their presumptuousness.

      • Thanks! My point was not how many Germans and Jepanese have helped their governments during the war in tems of war crimes. I just want to say: The Germans have no problems in admitting the wrongdoings in the past, while the Japanese still adhere to the illusion that they were merely victims (thanks to ttwo A-bombs!). That’s also the reason why I fear Japan could easily be jingoistic again.

      • JimmyJM

        I’m fairly certain that the majority of both countries populations supported their governments during the wars. But I believe your point is the difference between Germany and Japan in admitting the horrors they inflicted on other people and because of that, the horrors they brought to their own people.You’re correct but again, I believe the existence of a god/emperor in Japan is the mitigating factor. In Germany, National Socialism was a political party but in Japan, it was a religion that determined their militarism. Germans can’t simply blame Nazi-ism because the majority of the population went along with it or actively supported it. In japan, the people can’t blame the Emperor. Even the Tokyo War Crimes Trials didn’t do that. So what’s left? The government of that period no longer exists.And post war governments don’t feel responsible for what occurred. It would take courageous and no doubt politically suicidal leadership to admit to that history. I think the Emperor in his speech today, was trying to get the government to do just that.

  • shima

    Too bad the Japanese media is more focused on the “kawaii” princess.

    • hasanhh

      Which one is that?

      • J.P. Bunny

        Probably the one who is now of legal age and can wave at public events. She made her first public waving event at the Imperial Palace for the New Year thingy. She did very well, no mistakes.

  • Rob D

    The USSR never did while Germany did. You could see the different way they treated prisoners. Japan and Russia had a horrendous record. M

  • hasanhh

    As commented below, Tenno’s complete thoughts should be published. Not one or two media selected items.

  • Han Wang

    I am a Chinese Australian and I am a very reasonable person. My family was not much affected by the war so I don’t carry strong “personal hatred”. And I like Japan because of its great culture. One thing bothers me is that, the emperor only expressed regrets on “Those who died on the battlefields, those who died in the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those who died in the air raids on Tokyo and other cities”, but did not mention anything about the civilians in the Asian countries who were killed during the invasion. In another words, this makes me feel that he believes war is bad news only because it brought disasters to Japan and Japanese people. Essentially Japan initiated the war, I hope one day I could hear some apologies, not only “regrets”, from the emperor or the prime minister.

  • Alfredo

    One lesson would be to get rid of the idiotic Emperor. That’s the reason why there was WWII, resulting in the murder of millions across China, Korea, SE Asia and Americans.