Top>Opinion>The Nation's Ardent Expectations for the Compilation Project of The True History of the Emperor Showa by the Imperial Household Agency

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Motoei Sato

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The Nation's Ardent Expectations for the Compilation Project of The True History of the Emperor Showa by the Imperial Household Agency

Motoei Sato
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Modern Japanese History and Japanese Diplomatic History

Responsibility for meeting people's expectation as a national project

The project for compiling The True History of the Emperor Showa [Showa Tenno Jitsuroku], which records 87 years and 8 months of his life, was launched by the Imperial Household Agency in 1990 as a 16-year project. This project was revised in 1998 so that it would finish in March of this year, which is 5 years behind the original schedule. The completion was postponed again for 3 years, however, to March 2014. As 65 years have passed since the Asia-Pacific War ended, people who experienced the war have already reached old age, and the history of the tumultuous period of the Emperor Showa is gradually changing from a history of people's memory to a history of records. It is this time that many of the people have expectations for the publication of The True History of the Emperor Showa. Even without confirming the intention of the present Emperor, however, the Imperial Household Agency says that they have no plan to publish it.

The right to know what role the Emperors have played in Japanese politics and society is one of the matters that interest people most. Historians also desire a collection and compilation of materials that can be the basis for studies on the Emperor Showa and his time, taking advantage of this opportunity. The Record of the Emperor Meiji [Meiji Tenno Ki], which was completed spending 18 years and 10 months from 1915, is still highly valued for its extremely objective records of the Emperor's behavior. Materials collected through the national project and The True History of the Emperor Showa, which was compiled based on them, should also be shared with the nation as a matter of course.

A good opportunity to have the text recognized a work of national cultural heritage

According to the Imperial Household Agency, they collected activity records called The Diary [O-Nisshi] written by chamberlains who were close to the Emperor, and other materials stored in the Agency, as well as official and private documents or their copies in the possession of the National Archives of Japan, the National Diet Library, the Diplomatic Record Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the library at the National Institute for Defense Studies at the Ministry of Defense, etc. They also interviewed nearly 50 people including former chamberlains. In addition, personnel for the Compiling Division at the Archives and Mausolea Department in the Agency were dispatched to all prefectures excluding Okinawa, which the Emperor Showa did not have an opportunity to visit during his reign, to obtain records or their copies about his travel stored in each local government. As a result of these activities, the Agency reports that they have collected an enormous amount of materials. In December 1998, when the compilation of The True History was commenced, the Agency announced, "we would like to obtain all materials that allow clarification of his activities. The True History must be factual based on accurate materials. We are still collecting additional materials." According to them, they are carrying out these activities with 16 personnel and have spent 200 million yen so far, which is implausible if taking personnel and travel expenses into account, regardless of the appropriateness of this amount.

Materials regarding the Emperor Showa have been revealed in considerable detail and in various ways, including: submission to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, publication of diaries written by those who were close to him, and other efforts by scholars. Recent publications include the Diary of Yoshihiro Tokugawa [Tokugawa Yoshihiro Nikki], Diary of Michiharu Tajima [Tajima Michiharu Nikki], Diary of Kuraji Ogura [Ogura Kuraji Nikki], and Diary of Nobuhito, Prince of Takamatsu [Takamatsunomiya Nobuhito Nikki], among others. Many other diaries, records, and documents written by those engaged in the activities of the Emperor, however, are still made private by their family. So, I imagine that the current project through which the Imperial Household Agency has collected a large amount of undisclosed materials would be a good opportunity to pass them down through the ages as a work of national cultural heritage.

Reviewing the common theory about the declaration of war against the United States

How will the True History of the Emperor Showa describe the breakdown of the negotiation between the United States and Japan 70 years ago that unfortunately pulled the East Asia and Pacific region into the vortex of war? And have we ourselves also properly examined the actual policy-making process related to the outbreak of the Japan-U.S. war? Do not we easily accept historical views that depend too heavily on testimony, reminiscences, or records purposefully collected in conformity with the International Military Tribunal for the Far East after the war?

Before dawn on December 8, in 1941, Japan time, mechanized units of the Japanese navy attacked the main force of the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and destroyed their greatest fighting capability. This was the opening of the war against the United States. Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo, who was at the position of leading diplomacy for opening hostilities, initially intended to send a memorandum of the ultimatum to the U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull 20 minutes prior to the beginning of the attack. However, when Ambassador to the U.S. Kichisaburo Nomura actually handed the memorandum to Hull, slightly more than one hour had already passed since the beginning of the attack. This delay of notification, which was allegedly caused by delinquency of the Japanese embassy at Washington, D.C., consequently made the attack on Pearl Harbor a surprise attack and gave rise to the words Remember Pearl Harbor, emphasizing cowardliness of Japan to foster anti-Japan sentiment among American-this is the historical fact that is currently known. But is this historical fact true?

Is answering open questions simply vindication for Japan?

Was the memorandum to the U.S. intended as prior notification of the declaration of beginning war against the U.S.? Why did not they use other means than via Ambassador Nomura in Washington, D.C., such as personal delivery to Ambassador Grew in Tokyo and radio broadcasting? November 27th, immediately before the beginning of the war, the Liaison Conference of the Imperial General Headquarters decided Administrative Procedure for Beginning War [Kaisen ni Kansuru Jimu Tetsuzuki Junjo ni tsuite], which provided that the declaration of war would be adopted in a Cabinet meeting after beginning the war. Why did it not explicitly mention prior notification of the beginning of war (free action)? When did the Emperor Showa approve the advance notification of the declaration of war? Why did the Emperor Showa or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs not pursue the responsibility themselves when they found that the memorandum was handed to the U.S. after the attack? Why did the International Military Tribunal for the Far East fail to judge that Japan lacked notification for beginning war? Answering these questions cannot be dismissed simply as unilateral vindication for Japan.

Today's significance of studying the process of the U.S.-Japan war

Imperial Conference and Foreign Strategies: From Response to the China Incident to the End of the Great East Asia War [Gozen Kaigi to Taigai Senryaku: Shina Jihen Shori kara Daitoa Senso Shuketsu made]

According to records of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan-U.S. negotiations finally failed to compromise on the following three most difficult issues: (1) withdrawal and stationing of troops in China and French Indochina; (2) nondiscrimination of trade; and (3) abolishment of the Tripartite Pact among Japan, Germany, and Italy. These problems should have affected regions in Eastern Asia considerably. For China, compromise between Japan and the U.S. itself was a significant matter on which their fate depended greatly. Moreover, it involved opposition of ideas between Japan and the U.S. about the international order in East Asia and the Pacific region (the Stimson Doctrine and Hull's four principles vs. the New East Asian Order), as well as competition for colonial rule and the acquisition of resources. The process of the war needs to be reviewed from the perspective of the East Asian region.

It is time to reconsider problems about the causes and potential avoidance of the war from the viewpoint of relationships among the East Asian region by examining various points, such as the end of the Sino-Japanese War and southward advancement (cutting off Chang Kai-shek's supply route); plans for acquiring resources and relationships with French Indochina and the Dutch East Indies; designs of the East Asian New Order and relationships with East Asian regions; and the Japan-U.S. negotiation and China problems. This is because, I suppose, this perspective would be a really practical way leading to search for solutions of regional problems in modern East Asia, such as community building, resources and energy, trade liberalization, population and food supply, and the environment.

I emphatically request that the Imperial Household Agency publish materials showing the historical facts of the Emperor Showa, who lived his life together with the people in the tumultuous period of Showa, and the outcome of the national project for compiling The True History of the Emperor Showa, as a work of cultural heritage of the Japanese people. Reflection on the war is impossible without investigating the truth in history.

Motoei Sato
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Modern Japanese History and Japanese Diplomatic History
Professor Sato was born in Akita Prefecture in 1949. He graduated from the Department of History, the Faculty of Letters, Chuo University in 1973. He withdrew from the Doctoral Program at the Graduate School of Letters in the same university after completing the course work in 1978. He later received a Doctor of History degree.
He had been a historiographer for The Documents on Japanese Foreign Policy [Nippon Gaiko Bunsho] at the Diplomatic Record Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan; a deputy consul for the Japanese Consulate General in Karachi; a chief researcher for the Compilation Division at the Archives and Mausolea Department in the Imperial Household Agency; and a Professor for the Faculty of Letters in Komazawa University before assuming the position of a Professor for the Faculty of Letters at Chuo University in 2004. Currently, he is the president for the Institute of Policy and Cultural Studies in Chuo University.
Professor Sato was awarded the Yoshida Shigeru Award in 2001 for his book titled Diplomacy and Military Affairs of Modern Japan [Kindai Nippon no Gaiko to Gunji] (Yoshikawa Kobunkan).
His other major books and articles include "Foreign Minister Togo could have prevented the Japan-U.S. war [Togo Gaisho wa Nichibei Kaisen wo Soshi Dekita]" (Bungeishunju, March 2009); Studies on Foreign Policy towards China in the Early Showa Period: the Tanaka Cabinet's Policy towards Manchuria and Inner Mongolia [Showa Shoki Tai-Chugoku Seisaku no Kenkyu: Tanaka Naikaku no Tai-Manmo Seisaku] (Revised and augmented edition, Hara Shobo, 2009); and Imperial Conference and Foreign Strategies: From Response to the China Incident to the End of the Great East Asia War [Gozen Kaigi to Taigai Seiryaku: Shina Jihen Shori kara Daitoa Senso Shuketsu made] (Hara Shobo, 2011).