Unearthed document points to Hirohito’s role in Pearl Harbour raid
The Japanese emperor had previously been portrayed as being concerned over launching the attack which brought the US into the Second World War.
A newly released memo penned by a Japanese wartime official has provided what is thought to be a first look at the thinking of Emperor Hirohito and prime minister Hideki Tojo on the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour that thrust the US into the Second World War.
While far from conclusive, the five-page document lends credence to the view that Hirohito bears at least some responsibility for initiating hostilities.
At 8.30pm in Tokyo, just hours before the attack in Hawaii on December 7 1941, Mr Tojo summoned two top aides for a briefing.
One of them, vice interior minister Michio Yuzawa, wrote an account three hours after the meeting was over.
“The emperor seemed at ease and unshakeable once he had made a decision,” he quoted Mr Tojo as saying.
To what extent Hirohito was responsible for the war is a sensitive topic in Japan, and the bookseller who discovered the document kept it under wraps for nearly a decade before releasing it to Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper, which published it earlier this week.
Hirohito was protected from indictment in the Tokyo war crimes trials during a US occupation that wanted to use him as a symbol to rebuild Japan as a democratic nation. Hirohito died in 1989 at the age of 87 after 62 years on the throne.
Bookshop owner Takeo Hatano said: “It took me nine years to come forward, as I was afraid of a backlash.
“But now I hope the memo would help us figure out what really happened during the war, in which 3.1 million people were killed.”
Takahisa Furukawa, a Nihon University expert on wartime history who has confirmed the authenticity of the memo, called it the first detailed portrayal of Mr Tojo and Hirohito just before the attack.
Palace documents have confirmed Hirohito’s daytime meeting with Mr Tojo on December 7 1941.
The document supports the view that Hirohito was not as concerned about waging war on the US as was once portrayed, Mr Furukawa said.
The emperor had endorsed the government’s decision to scrap diplomatic options at a meeting on December 1, and his unchanged position before the attack reassured Mr Tojo.
Mr Yuzawa’s account portrays Mr Tojo as upbeat and feeling a sense of accomplishment after all the required administrative steps for war had been taken and, most importantly, that Hirohito had given him the final nod without asking any questions.
“If His Majesty had any regret over negotiations with Britain and the US, he would have looked somewhat grim. There was no such indication, which must be a result of his determination,” Mr Tojo is quoted as saying.
“I’m completely relieved. Given the current conditions, I could say we have practically won already.”
The Pearl Harbour attack killed nearly 2,400 US servicemen and caused major damage to the US Pacific Fleet.
Within months, however, the tide was turning. Mr Tojo was blamed for prolonging the war after it was clearly lost, leading to the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. He was later executed as a war criminal.
Mr Tojo, whose administrative skills and loyalty had won Hirohito’s trust, was made prime minister just two months before the Pearl Harbour attack and served in the post for most of the Second World War.
Mr Furukawa said Mr Tojo’s remarks in the memo about his relief at completing the preparations for war supports evaluations of him as a good bureaucrat, but not a visionary leader. More decisive leadership might have ended the war earlier, he said.
The historian added: “Tojo is a bureaucrat who was incapable of making own decisions, so he turned to the emperor as his supervisor. That’s why he had to report everything for the emperor to decide. If the emperor didn’t say no, then he would proceed.
“Clearly, the memo shows the absence of political leadership in Japan.”
Mr Hatano, an acquaintance of some of Mr Yuzawa’s descendants, received the notebook and other items from the family when they wanted to make room in their apartment. He found the memo folded in half inside the notebook about a year later.
“When I recognised the date, Sunday December 7 1941, I knew it was something special,” he said.
He examined it repeatedly to try to make sense of the handwriting and archaic language. “Then I spotted references to the emperor, and Prime Minister Tojo.”