Photo/IllutrationIn a note taken by Michiji Tajima after a January 1952 meeting with Emperor Hirohito, he records the emperor's desire to include remorse for the war in a speech to be delivered in May 1952. (Shogo Koshida)

Newly disclosed documents give us pause to wonder if Emperor Hirohito had been allowed to have his way, arguments over his war responsibility, along with public perceptions of the war and relations with neighboring countries, might have been different.

Michiji Tajima, who served as grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency after World War II, kept detailed notes of his exchanges with Hirohito (1901-1989), posthumously known as Emperor Showa.

Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), which obtained the documents from Tajima’s family, released a portion to other media organizations.

One thing worth noting is that Hirohito repeatedly asked Tajima to include wording of his remorse for World War II in his statement to be delivered at a ceremony on May 3, 1952, to mark the enforcement of the San Francisco Peace Treaty under which Japan regained its sovereignty.

The request was overruled by Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, who feared that such language could add momentum to calls for pursuit of his war responsibility and abdication.

Much of this was already known to researchers, but Tajima’s notes provided detailed exchanges.

The exact nature of remorse Hirohito wanted to express, as well as to whom he wanted to express it, cannot be discerned from Tajima’s notes alone. Hirohito eventually used a vague expression in the May 3 statement: “Reflecting deeply on the past developments and practicing discretion.”

Missing an occasion to publicly voice his contrition caused the issue of his war responsibility to drag on for decades.

In private, Hirohito was known to express remorse for Japan's colonialism. In 1982, he told his grand chamberlain, Sukemasa Irie, that “We did something truly bad to Korea.”

But Hirohito spoke with extreme caution in public, such as at news conferences, which invited questions and criticisms to his dismay.

Under the Meiji Constitution, the emperor was defined as having complete control of sovereignty.

It has been pointed out that the responsibility of Japan as a nation has remained vague and perpetuated a negative legacy because Hirohito remained emperor without clarifying his thoughts.

We hope the partial release of Tajima’s notes will prompt the Japanese people to earnestly reexamine the circumstances that led the nation to war and the damage it inflicted on other nations as well as on Japan itself.

The notes also reveal Hirohito’s anguish over how he should conduct himself under the postwar Constitution, which defined the emperor as “the symbol of the state and the unity of the people” devoid of political functions.

Of particular interest is the episode where Hirohito was chided by Tajima for arguing in favor of constitutional amendment to enable Japan to rearm.

Tajima, who had a good understanding of the Constitution, comes across as having contributed to keeping the imperial family from getting involved in a political confrontation and building a stable relationship with the Japanese people.

Overall, Tajima’s notes overlap existing research findings and mostly serve to corroborate them. Still, people have good reason to be curious to know what the undisclosed parts contain.

We also need to bear in mind that the Hirohito we glean in Tajima’s notes is only what Tajima saw.

We must always keep seeking historical truth to benefit from what we learn, with society sharing valuable records and cross-checking with other historical documents.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 21