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Emperor stresses importance of learning from World War II

36 Comments

Emperor Akihito in a New Year statement on Thursday stressed the importance of learning from World War II.

"I think it is now extremely important that at this opportunity we fully learn from the history of this war... in thinking about the way Japan should be in the future," Akihito, 81, said in a statement released by the Imperial Household Agency.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and the emperor and empress are hoping to visit Palau -- one of the most brutal battlefields in the Pacific during World War II -- in April to mourn for the war-dead.

"Those who died on the battlefields, those who died in the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those who died in the air raids on Tokyo and other cities - so many people lost their lives in this war. I think it is most important for us to take this opportunity to study and learn from the history of this war, starting with the Manchurian Incident of 1931, as we consider the future direction of our country," the emperor said.

In his statement, he also touched on the many natural disasters in Japan in 2014.

"Last year many lives were lost to natural disasters such as heavy snow, torrential rains, and the volcanic eruption of Mt Ontake, and my thoughts go out to those who lost their loved ones and their homes in those disasters.

"This is the fourth winter since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and it pains me to think that there are still so many people who cannot return to the places they used to live because of radioactive contamination and so many who face the prospect of a cold, harsh winter in temporary housing. These conditions have made me reflect on the importance of people becoming concerned about and involved in disaster prevention in their respective regions and being prepared to protect their own localities," he said.

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36 Comments
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Hear, hear. Let's hope we're not doomed to repeat the failures of the past.

17 ( +17 / -0 )

Just don't 'learn' from Abe's textbooks, given they are all white-washed. The emperor's words are wise, and should be heeded. Ironically, it's these words of the emperor that infuriate those who think he should regain supreme power because he admits to Japanese failures and need to learn from the past, whereas people like Abe and other right wing nuts want to return to said failures and lie about the past to do it.

11 ( +20 / -9 )

SmithinJapan,

Totally agree. If you are going to learn from something, you have to first FACE it, as it IS or as it WAS.

Old "head-in-the-sand" Abelini doesn't seem capable of doing this.

7 ( +14 / -7 )

“I think it is now extremely important that at this opportunity we fully learn from the history of this war… in thinking about the way Japan should be in the future,” .......Equally crucial and significant to both President Xi Jinping as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

It's a pIty the Japanese PM and the Emperor are not able to have a weekly audience as we do in the UK. It would do Abe the world of good to be told by an elder and better that he's talking out of his arse.

9 ( +13 / -4 )

“Those who died on the battlefields, those who died in the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those who died in the air raids on Tokyo and other cities - so many people lost their lives in this war. I think it is most important for us to take this opportunity to study and learn from the history of this war, starting with the Manchurian Incident of 1931, as we consider the future direction of our country,” the emperor said.

Haven't read the original, but that is unlikely to clarify this annoying ambiguity: that it was only Japanese who suffered in the war, and that it just kind of happened. That the Emperor is not involved in politics is well-understood, but a more comprehensible statement would have been nice, either way.

6 ( +12 / -6 )

Yeah but, Japan's imperial rule of Asia started long before WW2. Japan created their world war by attacking Pearl Harbor. Japan has a lot more to learn from and to be seeking forgiveness for from its history of the last hundred years than just the 5 years of WW2, which turned the whole country into a starving dust bowl. What the emperor should have said was, "Japan should learn not to confuse its ambitions with its capabilities!" I think Abe and his economists should heed the same philosophy.

5 ( +8 / -4 )

“I think it is now extremely important that at this opportunity we fully learn from the history of this war… in thinking about the way Japan should be in the future,” Akihito, 81, said in a statement released by the Imperial Household Agency.

Hearing this, all those right wing nuts who so adore the emperor should pause for thought. Ain't gonna happen though cos a nut's a nut.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

“I think it is now extremely important that at this opportunity we fully learn from the history of this war… in thinking about the way Japan should be in the future,” Akihito, 81, said in a statement released by the Imperial Household Agency.

I bet Akihito had no input at all and it was all scripted for him by the Imperial Household Agency! If he does have a good understanding of Japanese history he must be fuming mad over the direction Abe and his posse are taking us.

-1 ( +8 / -9 )

Well, given that his father was absolutely culpable in what happened 70 years ago and was just about the luckiest bloke in Asia in about 1945, Akihito has every reason to be circumspect about the past. But all flippant quips aside, I applaud the general sentiment of the statement, but like Laguna says, there is an evasive ambiguity to it that allows for a variety of readings....and I wish for once that someone like the Emperor would grow a pair and give a bold, pointed statement that leaves no wriggle room in it's interpretation.

However, this is Japan.

9 ( +14 / -5 )

I love those comments by Emperor. They are so unlike those of Abe's. I very much hope Emperor will live at least another few decades, so that he can pass on his wisdom to his children and grandchildren.

10 ( +13 / -3 )

It is very important that the Emperor mentioned the war started in 1931. There is a long-standing debate among Japanese historians over how to call and characterize the war. Saying it started in 1931 endorses the concept of the "15-year war" (jugonensenso), traditionally used by Japanese left-wing academics (and opposed by conservatives) and extremely critical of Japan's descent into war.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

I am very happy that the Emperor mentioned 1931 and Manchuria. Lest one forget, Prime Minister Abe's grandfather ran Manchukuo for awhile, although right-wingers still persist in arguing that it was an independent entity that loved Japan. At that time, the Empire called for the solidarity of the Chinese and the Manchurians under the leadership of Japan in realizing its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Missing, of course, were the Koreans who were being "assimilated."

I hope the Emperor can once again witness when an LDP PM (Obuchi) could have a historical summit of rapprochement with a ROK President (Kim Dae Jung), but Abe and Park Geun-hye probably cannot act historically in the positive sense of the word.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

He isnt addressing whether he is meaning kearning about Jaoans aggression or the losses the home sude faced as a result. Seems like he is indicating that Japan was the victim.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

Nope, he is being quite clear. He clearly used the date of 1931, when Japan launched a false flag attack on China, as a pretext to start a war. Good for him!

11 ( +12 / -1 )

I've always thought of the emperor as a much more level-headed person than most Japanese politicians whose aim is to stir up trouble, further their own agendas and fatten up their wallets. Yes, with his 'affinity to the Koreans', he must really make the right-wingers frustrated. I'd really like to see the emperor be able to visit Korea and China as part of some reconciliation between the countries and see him welcomed there.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

the Pacific during World War II—in April to mourn for the war-dead.

He did not stated Japan is only victim. He mentioned yje war dead. Unlike UK, Emperor is forbidden to involve in politics (constitution) so. his speeches are only way he can needle Japanese Govt.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Haven't read the original, but that is unlikely to clarify this annoying ambiguity: that it was only Japanese who suffered in the war

As a neutral country observer, I was encouraged that QE2 in her Christmas speech paid homage to the truce and football game on Christmas Day 2014 between the opposing sides in France in WWI.

Less encouraging, though, was the fact that a high profile commemorations of the fallen on royal property - the porcelain poppies at the Tower of London - recognised only Commonwealth victims, and not the totality of those slaughtered in the "war to end all wars."

It seems that not only - or even - the victors write the history.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Does anyone know where the entire original text is available in English or (preferably) Japanese? I can't find it. Even with the ambiguity about which victims the Emperor is talking about, even if he is only talking about Japanese victims (which I doubt), it would be meant to make a stong impression of the Japanese themselves who are the principal audience. This is a complete wrench thrown into the work of Abe. The Emperor feels Abe is dangerous. Let's see what the Emperor says during the end of war ceremony this year.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Nice message, one asking for people to read history and try to learn from the past, to mourn the dead.

So many die in wars, i read here and all i see is anger, anger about the past- but the parents of those who died would only want the war to end.

there is no political message here- only someone crying out against the wasted lives and he asks for introspection, the second call is also timely after all the disaster that has struck the country- how to reconstruct to protect everyone in a timely manner.

how many are still in temporary housing this year from the Tōhoku earthquake?

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I found the original at the Imperial Household Agency (Japanese page): 本年は終戦から70年という節目の年に当たります。多くの人々が亡くなった戦争でした。各戦場で亡くなった人々,広島,長崎の原爆,東京を始めとする各都市の爆撃などにより亡くなった人々の数は誠に多いものでした。この機会に,満州事変に始まるこの戦争の歴史を十分に学び,今後の日本のあり方を考えていくことが,今,極めて大切なことだと思っています。 In the original, the sentence about people dying in war is a separate sentence and implies everyone. The next sentence says the total of 1) people who died in each battle field, implying both, and 2 people who died in Japan (not strictly speaking a "battle field" 戦場 because there was no Japanese troops here fighting, just civilian victims of bombing. The English translation is not good in this respect, and invites the ambiguity people mention. And sorry, I should translate the entire passage literally, but I don't trust my English. Maybe someone else could.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Nice message, one asking for people to read history and try to learn from the past, to mourn the dead.

Sorry, but IMO it is not a nice message -- it is just a tired, worn-out message that should be shelved once and for all. The damn war ended, as the article says, nearly 70 years ago. If Japan has not learned its lessons from it -- two generations removed -- it is never going to. It is time to stop playing the implied victim card and move on and face Japan's real problems. What Japan should learn from is the collapse of the bubble economy, and how to it has not been able to get itself back on track for nearly two decades.

-10 ( +1 / -12 )

such a great message of peace ruined by all the negative comments about blah,blag and blah. cant some of you give it a rest for just one day...

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Perhaps there is something good in this message. But, I'm wondering if he happened to mention anything about the future...about future generations and the jeopardy they're in. I'm not talking about war here but about the way resources are being used up by the older generation and about the responsibility that older people have, being that they are the ones with the power, to leave a healthy society with opportunities for the next generation. Just nitpicking a bit! Happy New Year!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

"opportunity we fully learn from the history of this war… in thinking about the way Japan should be in the future,” Good line for the New Year from an elder who is sharing wisdom to the younger generation and war mongers. Abe and his supporters should listen and learn as the way to another Emperor, royalty, elites and power mongering pathway has lived its time and belongs as part of history, so that the people of Japan can continue to move forward not backwards.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Does Japan's constitution prevent what Emperor can say? The message to me is not straight.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Thanks for your writings. Never mind of Jerseyboy. His reading skills in English is worse than mine anyway.

toshiko -- thanks for the laugh, but I think the two Ivy League schools I have degrees from might just take exception to your comment.

Because of Constitution. that is about he could say about peace for Japan. It was said to Japanese,

That does not give him a free pass to keep bringing up a subject, WWII, that only Japan seems to care about. Every other country has moved on, and already "fully learn from the history of this war… in thinking about the way Japan should be in the future,” Why can't the Japanese, and especially the Emperor? Seventy years down the road is already "the future", and, instead of learning from it, Japan is trying to white-wash it. Find a new dead horse to beat. (In case your English skills cannot comprehend that expession, you can Google it.)

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Sorry, but IMO it is not a nice message....

Generally I would say it is a nice message unless you happen to own a black van or are part of the revisionist group that Abe pulls from. In that case I imagine the message made their teeth grind. But, since the Emperor said it, they don't have anything they can say to dispute the truth of what was said.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I like those comments by the Emperor. They are so unlike those of Abe's. I very much hope Emperor will live at least another few decades, so that he can pass on his wisdom to his children and grandchildren.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Like Laguna said and some afterwards, japan is still trying to learn from its past without any real success and differenciates Japan and rest of the world. This is the wrong part. When Europeans speak, they evoke the differences between countries but also people (religion, races...) to remind that ostracising anyone not like you leads to war sooner or later. Sorry to say that I fear Japan has not yet passed this moral necessary step. Of course, most Japanese are very kind and pacifist, but also much too docile. History must not repeat. A Japan and Japanese lover.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

People like Jerseyboy complain about White Washing history. Yes, this means we took White History imposed by the Occupation. McArthur forbade discussion of history at that crucial time by the actual players because he did not want Japanese to fall into an existential crisis of some kind, but wanted us to move quickly to become a model of capitalist democracy for Asia, and a bulwark against threatening communism. It was washed from history books. But if you are educated in Japan, you know that teachers are predominantly leftist, and they usually presented "supplementary materials" in class dealing with the war stuff textbooks did not discuss. Including very graphic pictures that I remember to this day even though almost 20 years have passed. We typical Japanese know more than you think. In contrast the winner, the US, young people know less than Japanese. According to a poll published by Nikkei last August, a little more than 20% of Americans under 25 don't know that atom bombs have been dropped. And among those who know, 70% think they were dropped on Korea (confusing Korean war I guess). None of them had heard of Viet Nam war, which US lost, and some how more and more are getting through school without knowing US and Japan fought each other in a war.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

A timely reminder from a wise man at a time the world is undergoing rapid changes never witnessed before!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This message may not be a strong, direct, or overt as some of you may wish, but considering the tight leash the Imperial Household agency keeps the Imperial family in, and the way the Imperial family is forbidden from involving itself in politics (during the succession crisis a few years ago there were stories about how the Imperial family were forbidden by law from even expressing their own opinions about who should inherit the throne), personally I think this is an amazing statement.

It requires a bit of subtlety to grasp the nuances of it of course, but for the Emperor to list the Manchuria incident among the things Japanese people should learn from.. that tells me pretty clearly however politically non-threatening his message is, he's trying to be on the right side of history. Kudos.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Hope Abe and his cohorts do not ignore Emperor's wish. Japanese people voted for LDP but Japanese people respect Empero, not Abe. If Abe militarize Japan when Japanese population has been shrinking, it will be disastrous.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

本年は終戦から70年という節目の年に当たります。This year marks the seventieth year since the end of the war.

多くの人々が亡くなった戦争でした。It was a war in which so many people lost their lives.

各戦場で亡くなった人々,The numbers of those who lost their lives on the various battlefields, 広島,長崎の原爆,東京を始めとする各都市の爆撃などにより亡くなった人々の数, of those who died in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in the bombing raids on Tokyo and other Japanese cities は誠に多いものでしたwere truly enormous.

この機会に,満州事変に始まるこの戦争の歴史を十分に学び,I consider it extremely important that we take this opportunity to study properly the history of this war which started with the Manchurian Incident今後の日本のあり方を考えていくことが,今,極めて大切なことだと思っています。and to think about what kind of Japan we want for ourselves from now on into the future.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@nandakanda and Gokaiomaneju: Nice you guys wrote his speech in both Japanese and English to ensure both Japanese and gaijins understand what he said.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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