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Monday July 24, 2006

When Emperor Showa spoke from the heart in his memo

THE direct language used by Emperor Showa (Hirohito) to describe his sentiment towards Japan’s Class-A war criminals enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine may have surprised many people.  

It has been revealed that he said: “That's why I've since stopped visiting (the shrine). That's how I feel in my heart.”  

The emperor made this comment in reference to Yasukuni Shrine's decision in 1978 to add the Class-A war criminals to the list of the war dead enshrined at the Shinto sanctuary.  

The remark was included in a newly discovered memorandum written by then Imperial Household Agency Grand Steward Tomohiko Tomita. The memo was dated April 28, 1988.  

In October 1978, Yasukuni Shrine enshrined the 14 Class-A war criminals, including former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, as “Showa martyrs.”  

The 14 wartime political, military and other leaders were tried at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, known as the Tokyo Trial.  

After the end of World War II, Emperor Showa paid eight visits to the shrine, the last of which took place in November 1975. The current emperor has never worshipped at the shrine since ascending the Chrysanthemum Throne in 1989.  

Meanwhile, a visit to the shrine in 1975 by then Prime Minister Takeo Miki sparked controversy over whether a shrine visit by the prime minister should be seen as an act that has been performed in an official or personal capacity.  

For years, two theories have been advanced concerning Emperor Showa's refusal to visit the shrine. One theory has it that his attitude can be regarded as an indication of his objection to the Yasukuni Shrine's decision.  

The other sees his refusal as arising from a desire not to arouse a dispute over whether shrine visits are personal or official.  

The fact remains, however, that both theories are speculation. But the discovery of the memo in question means the controversy has arrived at a conclusion.  

The memo quotes Emperor Showa as telling Tomita that the “Class-A (war criminals) have been enshrined (with the war dead), even including Matsuoka and Shiratori.” The emperor was probably referring to former Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka and former ambassador to Italy Toshio Shiratori.  

Matsuoka and Shiratori strived to ensure Japan, Germany and Italy signed the Tripartite Pact in 1940. Their work did much to trigger the war between Japan and the United States.  

In a monologue disclosed in 1990, Emperor Showa bitterly criticised Matsuoka for his role in the signing of the treaty, saying, “(He) may have been bought off by (Adolf) Hitler.”  

With his position as a constitutional monarch in mind, Emperor Showa is believed to have restrained himself from speaking much about whether Japan should enter World War II, despite his constant desire to avert Japan's participation in the war.  

Do Emperor Showa's remarks in the memo show he found Yasukuni Shrine's decision to enshrine the Class-A war criminals unacceptable?  

It should be noted that another historical document cited him as making favourable comments about some Class-A war criminals. He described one war criminal as “a person who has done distinguished service to our country, although the United States sees him as a criminal.”  

The discovery of the memo is certain to cause a stir in the continued dispute over a proposal to remove the Class-A war criminals from the list of the war dead honoured at the Yasukuni facility, and to enshrine them somewhere else.  

However, Yasukuni Shrine has dismissed such an arrangement as “impossible”, saying that doing so would go against Shinto teachings. If the government pressures Yasukuni Shrine, a religious company, to remove the Class-A war criminals from its list of the war dead, it would be against the principle of separation of religion and politics.  

Foreign Minister Taro Aso has proposed transforming Yasukuni Shrine into a state-run facility. But it would be impossible to realise his proposal unless the Shinto shrine agrees to be given such status.  

It may be advisable to grant Yasukuni Shrine the freedom to conduct religious activities in a manner that fits its wishes, while exploring alternative options for honouring the war dead. Probable measures include erecting a state-run memorial for the war dead, or expanding the government-run cemetery for unidentified fallen soldiers in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward.  

We believe considering such alternatives is the only way to resolve the Yasukuni Shrine dispute. – The Daily Yomiuri/Asia News Network