Emperor Showa’s days reveal agony

Emperor Showa’s days reveal agony
Emperor Showa on April 17, 1987.

The Imperial Household Agency on Tuesday released the annals of Emperor Showa (1901-1989), which detail his life and depict his feelings about major events, including his agonies over reckless actions taken by the Imperial Japanese Army in the Manchurian Incident in 1931 and during the Pacific War.

The 12,000-plus page annals, compiled with quotations of diaries kept by the late emperor's chamberlains and other aides, also show, in a precise, chronological order, major developments during the turbulent Showa era (1926-1989) such as the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the lead-up to the end of World War II.

The agency said the annals were compiled based on reliable historical materials, ensuring that they constitute first-rate historical data in the form of daily records of the late emperor, posthumously called Emperor Showa.

For the compilation, more than 3,000 items of historical materials including about 40 data sources newly found outside the agency were used, raising expectations that studies on the Showa era would be deepened further should these materials be made public in the future.

In the annals, the developments before and after Emperor Showa made a "divine decision" to end the war are recorded to the minute.

On Aug. 9, 1945 following the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, the Soviet Union entered into war against Japan in violation of the Neutrality Pact. At 9:55 a.m. on Aug. 9, the emperor told Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Koichi Kido, "There is a need to immediately examine and decide on how to end the war."

Later the same day, the second atomic bomb exploded over Nagasaki, prompting an Imperial Council meeting - with the emperor in attendance - to be convened to discuss ending the war by accepting the Potsdam Declaration.

This meeting was believed to have started at midnight, Aug. 9. But it was identified by the annals as having started at 12:03 a.m. Aug. 10.

On Aug. 14, the emperor made an Imperial decision to end the war, and he recorded the Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War, starting at 11:25 p.m., amid an air-raid warning. At noon on Aug. 15 at an underground air-raid shelter at the Imperial Palace, he listened as the prerecorded Imperial Rescript was broadcast over the radio.

Awakened by an aide at 6:20 a.m. on Feb. 26, 1936, the emperor learned of the Feb. 26 (2/26) Incident - a coup d'etat attempt by a group of radical young officers of the Imperial Japanese Army. In the incident, the army officers assassinated Finance Minister Korekiyo Takahashi, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Makoto Saito and military leaders.

The annals identified whom the Emperor had met, at what time and how often, before he went to bed at 1:45 a.m. on the following day.

Between Feb. 26 through 28, the Emperor called in Shigeru Honjo, his chief aide-de-camp, 41 times and urged him to put down the incident, while gathering information from time to time from other aides, including Imperial Household Minister Kurahei Yuasa and a deputy grand chamberlain, showing a glimpse of how the emperor dealt with the incident in a level-headed fashion.

Also in the annals are three Japanese poems written by the emperor that had, until now, remained unknown.

Before the entry containing his poem written in 1929, he lamented, "Even though I showed my determination to save expenses by postponing the construction of a new Imperial villa, none of my ideals have been realised."

The document shows that while a few years had passed since he ascended to the throne, his ideals had not been reflected in actual policies.

Nevertheless, the emperor in his youth did have his say proactively in politics.

In the same year that the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Giichi Tanaka leniently punished the Japanese Kwantung Army officers allegedly involved in the previous year's assassination of Manchurian warlord Chang Tso-lin, the emperor rebuked Tanaka, urging him to resign.

The annals wrote that after doing so, the emperor "dozed off, probably due to stress," revealing a previously unknown perspective on the emperor.


Takashi Mikuriya, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, said the most significant point of the annals is that they contain previously unattainable quotations from diaries by Emperor Showa's chamberlains and other aides.

As a result, he said the annals will serve as important historical materials for reviewing the 20th century.

He added that if we consider what the late emperor probably felt over the Feb. 26 Incident in 1936 in chronological order, for instance, the whole picture of what happened then will become clearer.

The perplexity and conflicted feelings of a superintendent of the supreme command in the prewar years, and his repeated recalling of the war in the postwar years, also are of interest, he said.

The annals are meaningful from a viewpoint of political history from the prewar to postwar years, but are even more interesting when read from a perspective of social history, Mikuriya stressed.

Key points of Emperor Showa's annals


Unprecedented historical materials depicting the entire life of Emperor Showa, which overlaps with much of the 20th century, written in the form of daily records based on reliable data. Also revealed are feelings of the emperor on the occasions of major events.


Diaries of the emperor's chamberlains and other aides are quoted.

A private diary of Saburo Hyakutake, who served as Grand Chamberlain from 1936 to 1944, was found. Passages from the diary led to the discovery of new facts.


Detailed backdrop of growth through the emperor's childhood - documents on his behaviour as well as letters and contents of his writings at that stage were found, including one saying, "I want to become a doctor of natural history."

His comments on the uselessness of lectures by scholars who would not make any criticism of or argument against the Imperial household.

Critical developments during the February 26 Incident in 1936 and on the lead-up to the end of World War II are depicted in detail in a precise, chronological manner.

The existence of records of what the emperor was believed to have told his aides after the war concerning events occurring before and during the war was confirmed, but the records themselves were not found.

Three Japanese poems are made public for the first time, including one in which the emperor complains, "None of my ideals have been realised."

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