After WWII many people, including me, believed that Emperor Hirohito should bear considerable blame for his complicity in Japan’s wars of the 1930s in China and in the Pacific in the 1940s.
There is no doubt that the late Emperor Hirohito was traumatized, as was his nation, by the disasters of WWII. But perhaps that experience of war is the reason why Emperor Hirohito, his son the current Emperor Akihito and his grandson, Crown Prince Naruhito are standing as firm bulwarks against the revisionist tide of history in Japan.
I have written many earlier articles about this and the revisionist tide that Prime Minister Abe is pushing. In many respects he wants to deny the worst aspects of Japanese militarism – the Nanjing massacre and the abuse of ‘comfort women’. He adds vague qualifiers to previously expressed Japanese remorse for the war. Prime Minister Abe keeps the Education Ministry under continual pressure to ensure that its history books are more ‘patriotic’ and minimize Japan’s complicity in WWII. He wants the Japanese people to ignore the fact that 35 m Chinese were killed or wounded as a result of the Japanese occupation of China.
Prime Minister Abe also has a personal agenda. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, and later Prime Minister, was an accused Class A war criminal. He was arrested but released without trial.
The Japanese media, including the public broadcaster NHK, are under great pressure to comply with Prime Minister Abe’s view of history. He is succeeding in the harassment of the media with only the Asahi Shimbun standing out against him.
But the lightening rod has been Yasukuni Shrine which includes the remains of the Japanese war dead, but also the secretly enshrined remains of Class A war criminals. Before he became Prime Minister Abe regularly attended ceremonies at Yasukuni Shrine. He is now more diplomatic but many of his ministers continue to pay their respects at Yasukuni in a way that causes concern to the Chinese and the South Koreans.
But the royal family has stood firm against Yasukuni Shrine.
After the enshrinement of 14 Class A war criminals Emperor Hirohito made a decision never to visit Yasukuni again. No emperor, including the current Emperor Akihito has visited the shrine.
The Crown Prince Naruhito has been even more explicit. At a news conference in February 2015 the Crown Prince and heir to the throne was asked for his views about the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. He replied
‘I myself did not experience the war … but I think that it is important today, when memories of the war are fading, to look back humbly on the past and correctly pass on the tragic experiences and history Japan pursued from the generation which experienced the war to those without direct knowledge.’
It was strong language for a Crown Prince.
A year later, in February this year on the occasion of his 55th birthday the Crown Prince restated what he had said 12 months earlier about learning correctly from the mistakes of the past. He added that Japan was enjoying peace and prosperity after it was built with the Japanese Constitution as the cornerstone. It is that Japanese Constitution and cornerstone that Prime Minister Abe is trying to change. The Crown Prince continued on his 55th birthday
‘I hope this year will be an opportunity to take the preciousness of peace to heart and renew our determination to pursue peace’.
The only major Japanese language newspaper that carried these comments from the Crown Prince was the Asahi Shimbun. All the others under the heavy influence of Prime Minister Abe refused to carry the story about the Crown Prince’s plea for peace.
In parallel to rising nationalism, the damaging tide of war revision is running strongly in Japan.
The Japanese royal family is proving a strong and steadfast bulwark against this revisionism. Even the Japan Communist Party is impressed. It used to boycott the ceremonial opening of Parliament by the Emperor because of the earlier behaviour of Japanese Emperors.. Recently they decided to attend the opening of Parliament.
Major elements in Japan led by Prime Minister Abe however continue to properly acknowledge the disastrous policies of Japan in the 1930s and 1940s.
How different Japan’s response is to that of Germany after the end of WWII.