Just after midnight on Dec 23, 1948, former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and six other wartime leaders and military commanders convicted of Class A war crimes by the Tokyo Tribunal were executed by hanging in Tokyo's Sugamo Prison.
Writing in the year's final issue of Shukan Gendai (Dec 26-Jan 2), award-winning author and Tokyo vice governor Naoki Inose states his conviction that the timing of the executions was not coincidental.
Dec 23, 1948 also happened to be the 15nth birthday of Crown Prince Akihito. A formal ceremony to observe the event was to be held at the palace. But so shaken was Emperor Hirohito upon being informed of the executions, he reportedly spent the rest of the day in seclusion.
Inose is convinced that Supreme Commander Allied Powers General Douglas MacArthur must certainly have been aware the date coincided with the crown prince's birthday, with the implication that the staging of the executions on Dec 23 was intended to serve as a "delayed action device." In MacArthur's mind, when Crown Prince Akihito eventually ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne and Dec 23 became a public holiday, Japanese would receive a not-so-subtle annual reminder that the Allies chose not to press the issue of responsibility for the war on the emperor and other members of the imperial family.
As it turned out, MacArthur's stratagem was foiled by Hirohito's longevity. By the time the emperor's birthday became a new public holiday on Dec 23, 1989, few Japanese still recalled the convergence of the executions and the emperor's birthday.
Inose's book, titled, "Jimmy no Tanjobi, Amerika ga Tenno Akihito ni Kizanda 'Shi no Ango'" (Jimmy's birthday; the 'code of death' that America inscribed into Emperor Akihito) was released last month by Bungeishunju. "Jimmy" was the name given to the present emperor by Elizabeth Gray Vining, his English tutor and author of "Windows for the Crown Prince."
Inose's inspiration for the book was a letter he received from a young woman, who refers to the final entry in the diary of her grandmother, a former aristocrat. Dated Dec 7, 1948, it simply read, "I'm worried about Jimmy's birthday."
If there's one person who has certainly not forgotten the significance of Dec 23, Inose asserts, it is Emperor Akihito himself. That is why from years ago, he went out of his way to visit battlegrounds in places like Okinawa and Saipan to pray for the spirits of the war victims.
"This," writes Inose, "is the cross that MacArthur inscribed on his own birthday, of which he is fully aware."
Once when lecturing at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, Inose asked about 50 students if they had reviewed Japanese history while in high school. Only four replied in the affirmative. This collective disregard for its own history, he complains, is turning Japan into "one big Disneyland." While American soldiers armed with machine guns guard the gates, Japanese have become detached from reality and withdrawn into their own virtual worlds.
To avoid national decline, Japanese must come to terms with their own history, Inose asserts, adding, "We all subsist atop the geologic strata of history. And if we look closely beneath us, it becomes evident that it is not only emperors who shoulder the burden of history, but we ourselves."© Japan Today