It was a hot day in Tokyo with a daytime high of 32.3 degrees Celsius 70 years ago when Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, declared Japan’s surrender in World War II.
At noon on Aug. 15, 1945, people solemnly listened to a recording of the 44-year-old Emperor’s voice through the radio that lasted about 4½ minutes.
A series of hectic and strained events bookended that historic announcement, with an attempted coup to stop it from airing, the suicide of an army minister and the prime minister’s resignation.
On the morning of Aug. 14, the Emperor convened an Imperial staff conference inside a bomb shelter at the Imperial Palace and said he would accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration issued by the Allies.
Some of the attendees at the conference, including Army Minister Korechika Anami and Chief of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Yoshijiro Umezu, said they would not accept expressed their opposition to the acceptance of the declaration.
The Emperor reportedly asked those who had opposed the decision to agree with him in accepting the declaration, stressing that the country would be ruined if they continued to fight. He also urged the government to prepare an Imperial edict, saying he was ready for it to be broadcast.
Following the Imperial staff conference, Chief Secretary to the Cabinet Hisatsune Sakomizu told reporters about the Emperor’s decision to accept the declaration so that newspapers could carry the article the following day.
At a Cabinet meeting at 1 p.m., a number of matters regarding the Emperor’s broadcast were examined. The government then decided that the radio announcement would be aired at noon the following day and would urge the press to deliver the Aug. 15 newspaper to households after the broadcast was finished.
Meanwhile, midranking Imperial Japanese Army officers who opposed accepting the declaration, including Maj. Kenji Hatanaka, plotted a coup to thwart the broadcast and began preparations in the afternoon.
After leaving the bomb shelter, the Emperor entered his office at around 11:25 p.m. at the then-Imperial Household Ministry, currently the site of the Imperial Household Agency, to record the announcement.
Emperor Hirohito, in military uniform, recorded the announcement twice using a microphone, according to historical documents.
After midnight, the coup attempt by Maj. Hatanaka and others began. At around 2 a.m., the officers led by Hatanaka killed Lt. Gen. Takeshi Mori of the First Imperial Guards Division and strengthened the forces occupying the Imperial Palace.
Disarming the palace guards and blocking all entrances, the rebels spent hours looking for the master recordings of the surrender announcement but couldn’t find them.
At around 5:30 a.m., Hatanaka and others arrived at the office of NHK, then located in Uchisaiwaicho in present-day Chiyoda Ward, demanding the broadcaster air their intention to mount a rebellion, but their demand was refused.
They were subsequently persuaded to give up the rebellion by Shizuichi Tanaka, the commanding officer of the Eastern District Army. The attempted coup, known as the Kyujo Incident, was effectively quashed by 7 a.m.
The Emperor reportedly lamented over the attempted coup with a dark look on his face shortly after it was suppressed.
In the midst of the turmoil, on the early morning of Aug. 15, Army Minister Anami committed suicide at his office near the Imperial Palace. He left a suicide note that read: “I — with my death — humbly apologize to the Emperor for the great crime.”
Meanwhile, preparations to air the Emperor’s speech proceeded.
At 7:21 a.m., the radio broadcast a notice saying the Gyokuon Hoso (Jewel Voice Broadcast) by the Emperor would air at noon. The announcement was initially scheduled for 5 a.m. but was postponed due to the failed coup.
The recordings were reportedly taken to the broadcasting hall in Uchisaiwaicho around 11 a.m.
Following the time signal at noon, an announcer told the public that the “important broadcast” was coming up.
After the national anthem “Kimigayo” was played, the Emperor’s speech aired, declaring Japan’s unconditional surrender.
The ordeal wasn’t over yet. At a Cabinet meeting at around 2:30 p.m., Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki told his Cabinet that he intended to resign.
Later in the afternoon, Suzuki submitted his resignation to the Emperor, which he accepted. The next day, Emperor Hirohito appointed Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni to the position of prime minister and the first Cabinet led by a member of the Imperial family launched on Aug. 17.
Signs of ordinary times gradually came back to public life. Blackout regulations were lifted on Aug. 20 for the first time since December 1941, when Japan launched its war against the Allies. The weather forecast, which had been prohibited during the war, returned to the airwaves on Aug. 22 and to newspapers on Aug. 23.
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