Photo/IllutrationSome of the notes taken by Michiji Tajima, the first grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, and released by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) (Shogo Koshida)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Emperor Hirohito sought to express his feelings of remorse over World War II in 1952 but was stopped from doing so by the prime minister of the time, newly disclosed documents show.

That glimpse of his mind-set emerges from records kept by Michiji Tajima, the first grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, who served Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, between 1948 and 1953.

Tajima's detailed notes cover his exchanges with Hirohito on 613 occasions between February 1949 and December 1953, when Tajima stepped down as grand steward.

After Tajima's death in 1968, his family held on to the documents and recently presented them to Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), which released portions of the records to other media organizations.

One topic discussed in detail by Hirohito and Tajima involved what the emperor would say at a May 3, 1952, ceremony marking the return of Japan's sovereignty under the San Francisco Peace Treaty as well as the fifth anniversary of the enforcement of the postwar Constitution.

A note by Tajima dated Jan. 11, 1952, quotes Hirohito as saying he wanted to include wording that expressed his "remorse" for the war. A month later, Tajima writes that the emperor said he himself felt much remorse for various aspects of the war.

While the draft of his message initially included words expressing contrition for the war, then Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida wrote to the emperor requesting that all references about contrition for the conflict be deleted. In the end, Hirohito agreed with Yoshida's request.

Another key point emerging from the records concerns repeated references by Hirohito about the need for Japan to rearm once it regained sovereignty.

In an exchange reported by Tajima held on Feb. 11, 1952, Hirohito went so far as to say the only change needed in the Constitution was an amendment making it possible for Japan to rearm. Japan's Self-Defense Forces had not been established by then.

A month later, Hirohito told Tajima that rearming would not be necessary in a world without overpowering military forces. Since that was not the case, he insisted the only path was to rearm.

While Hirohito was keen to pass on such ideas to Yoshida, Tajima told the emperor that the prime minister was opposed to Japan rearming.

Scholars said Hirohito's references to rearming reflected political realities of the times.

Takahisa Furukawa, a history professor at Nihon University, who went over the released documents, said Hirohito's references to amending the Constitution so Japan could rearm was a "statement of the times" in which many people assumed pacifist Article 9 would make it impossible to even establish an organization like the SDF.

"His comments are nothing more than an expression of his belief that a minimum level of defense was needed," Furukawa said. "The other references in the documents show that Hirohito had no intention of returning Japan to the militarist state it was until the end of the war."

Seiichi Chadani, an associate professor of history at Shigakukan University in Kagoshima city, said Hirohito's concerns about ensuring Japan's national security was a reflection of his own regret at having presided over a disastrous war that led to Japan's defeat in 1945.

Akira Yamada, a history professor at Meiji University who has penned a volume about Emperor Showa and World War II, said Hirohito's background molded his thinking about national security.

Yamada explained that Hirohito was the sole emperor of the modern era who underwent a military upbringing that allowed him to stand shoulder to shoulder with other world leaders.

"Even after the emperor became a 'symbol of the state' under the Constitution, (Hirohito) likely could not shift his thinking as the ruler of a military power," Yamada said.

He added that Hirohito likely shared sentiments held by some of Japan's leaders at the time that the U.S.-imposed Constitution was a temporary document that could be amended once the Allied Occupation ended.

With regard to Hirohito's desire to express contrition for the war, Yamada said Yoshida likely reacted the way he did out of a fear it could lead to his immediate abdication to take responsibility for the war. With then Crown Prince Akihito not even 20 years old at the time, Yoshida likely felt such an imperial transition was not in Japan's best interests.

(This article was written by Ayako Nakada and Senior Staff Writer Ryuichi Kitano.)