This past week has marked an important peaceful event for countries affected by World War II. August 15, 1945 is when then-ruler of Japan Emperor Hirohito announced via the radio that the country was surrendering its position in the war. This announcement signalled the end of the Second World War and Japan’s defeat. Every year the nation holds a ceremony in Nippon Budokan, located in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, to commemorate those who died during the war, both civilians and soldiers. The event is attended by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Emperor Akihito, and the Empress Michiko. This year’s ceremony was Emperor Akihito’s last as Emperor. In the afternoon there is a moment of silence to remember the moment on August 15, 1945, when the announcement was made. The wars Japan waged in the 1930s and 1940s left 3.1 million Japanese people dead.
The commemoration for the dead and the end of the war is not without tension regarding acknowledgment of Japan’s sacrifice. There is a shrine in Yasukuni to commemorate 14 Japanese leaders in the war, all of whom have been convicted of war crimes by an allied tribunal. The shrine is not visited by Prime Minister Abe because of Tokyo’s fragile relations with Seoul and Beijing. Japan occupied Korea from 1910 to 1940, and also invaded a part of China. Reports believe China’s relations with Japan have long been haunted by the country’s belief that Japan has failed to atone for its occupation of Chinese territory.
Japan Times reports that World War II is the one event Emperor Akihito found most memorable when he was interviewed by reporters several days before his 80th birthday. Although Emperor Akihito was born in 1933 and was sent away from Tokyo when America officially declared war on Japan, he returned to find a devastated city.
Japan’s post-war constitution makes it difficult for Emperors to express personal opinions on political activities, as they are supposed to hold a politically neutral position. However, Yuji Otabe, professor emeritus of Japanese history at Shizuoka University of Welfare, comments that it appears both post-war emperors, Hirohito and Akihito, have expressed remorse and regret for World War II. Over the past 30 years Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have visited memorials, war survivors, and war-related sites. They have prayed for their losses and the losses of all nationalities. Although explicit apologies are hard to make due to constitutional law, the implications of Emperor Akihito’s actions have served as an attempt to confront and heal from the damages of war. Emperor Akihito has made several famous comments hinting at his position on war, such as “I treasure the preciousness of peace.” The defeat of Japan in World War II has had ongoing effects, some of which the leaders of Japan have worked to repair peacefully. International relations and unity between the Japanese people and their government have improved. Prime Minister Abe has sought a peaceful solution by not attending the shrine dedicated to Japan’s wartime leaders out of international consideration. However, he did send a gift to the shrine, over which South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed deep disappointment. Prime Minister Abe’s choice to send a gift has fuelled the belief that Japan lacks introspection and ownership over their aggression in the war.
Despite this, Emperor Akihito has become a symbol of peace, democracy, and reconciliation due to his work over the past three decades. His speech at the ceremony on August 15, 2018 possessed the same regretful tone as the speech he made on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. “I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated,” he stated. The Emperor’s legacy has been one of peace and reparation, and one which has earned him international respect and appreciation for his work.