Just hours before the radio broadcast of Emperor Hirohito’s announcement to the Japanese people that their government had accepted the military’s unconditional surrender in World War II, a coup d’etat was being hatched with one of the aims being to steal the master records and stop the airing at all costs.
The attempted coup, known as the Kyujo Incident, happened after midnight on Aug. 14, 1945 after Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, recorded the Imperial Rescript of Surrender inside the Imperial Palace to announce Japan’s capitulation to the Allied forces.
Emperor Hirohito had decided to accept the conditions of the Potsdam Declaration laid out by the Allies at an Imperial staff meeting on Aug. 14 inside a bomb shelter at the Imperial Palace.
Emperor Hirohito made the announcement, called Gyokuon Hoso (Jewel Voice Broadcast), after entering an office at 11:25 p.m. that night at the then Imperial Household Ministry, now the site of the Imperial Household Agency.
Hidden away inside a bunker in the palace compound, Emperor Hirohito recorded the announcement twice using a microphone, saying Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration, in which the United States, Britain and China — and later the Soviet Union — demanded Japan’s unconditional surrender.
But it was delivered in a courtly style of Japanese that few common people could easily understand and the poor sound quality added to confusion over whether Japan had surrendered or not.
The records were locked in a small safe at the grand chamberlain’s office before a group of renegade officers stormed the palace in a failed bid to block the airing of the surrender announcement, as it was unclear to them if the Imperial system would be maintained under the conditions of the Potsdam Declaration.
According to the Imperial annals, the officers led by Maj. Kenji Hatanaka killed Lt. Gen. Takeshi Mori of the First Imperial Guards Division and counterfeited an order that would allow them to greatly augment the forces occupying the Imperial Palace and Imperial Household Ministry.
Hatanaka and the rebels disarmed the palace guards, blocked all entrances and severed communication with the outside world by cutting telephone wires. Hiroshi Shimomura, the director of the Information Bureau who had attended Emperor Hirohito’s recording, was one of several people captured and detained that night.
The rebels searched in vain over the next several hours for the master recordings of the surrender speech.
Shortly after 5 a.m. Hatanaka was persuaded to give up the rebellion by the commanding officer of the Eastern District Army, and he later shot himself in the head about an hour before the Emperor’s noon broadcast on Aug. 15.
Many of Hatanaka’s co-conspirators also committed suicide.
“I was ordered to meticulously search any vehicle leaving the palace no matter how important the person was,” recalled Hajime Nishiyama, 90, who at the time was assigned to the palace guards and posted at the Sakashita-mon Gate.
The order was apparently given to ensure that the master recordings had not been stolen, but Nishiyama said he had no idea of the situation he was in. “I searched vehicles but the people who came out weren’t carrying anything,” he said.
One 93-year-old former guard who entered the palace to quash the rebellion said: “I had no idea why I was pointing my pistol at the ministry. I intended to strictly carry out my duties, but unfortunately because of that incident we were all thought of as a renegade army.”
According to the Imperial annals, the recordings were taken to a broadcasting hall in nearby Uchisaiwaicho a little after 11 a.m.
In the speech, Emperor Hirohito famously referred to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that occurred just days before, saying, “The enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking a toll of many innocent lives.”