Recently a correspondent drew attention to the words of Roger Beaumont, a historian of the Indian Army: “When the day comes that man gives to peace what he has given to war, then the circle can close…”
On his last birthday before his abdication Japan’s emperor appeared on the balcony of the imperial palace in Tokyo with Empress Michiko and called for his country’s younger generations to be taught accurately about the horrors of war.
“It is important not to forget that countless lives were lost in the second world war and that the peace and prosperity of postwar Japan was built upon the numerous sacrifices and tireless efforts made by the Japanese people, and to pass on this history accurately to those born after the war,” he said.
Akihito expressed relief that his 30 year reign – the heisei (“peace everywhere”) era – has been a peaceful one for Japan.
Since succeeding his father Hirohito, Japan’s wartime emperor, he has used his reign to call for an honest appraisal of history.
Japan’s postwar constitution prohibits the emperor from wielding political influence, but the imperial couple have promoted reconciliation with former victims of Japanese wartime aggression.
In 1992, Akihito became the first Japanese emperor to visit China, telling his hosts he “deeply deplored” an “unfortunate period in which my country inflicted great suffering on the people of China” during a war fought in the name of his father.
The former Emperor Akihito has given what he could to peace.
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It was good that he publicly called for Japanese recognition of the foul crimes they committed – on a par with Nazi Germany – although “unfortunate period in which my country inflicted great suffering on the people of China” hardly matches the atrocities they perpetrated on the far east generally.
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In November 1962, Akihito and his wife were sent (to the Philippines) to represent his father. At the time, Japan didn’t have a law yet that would allow government officials to represent the emperor in diplomatic visits, so it had to be the son.
Prince Akihito (then 29 years old) and Princess Michiko were “nervous.” Although the relations between Manila and Tokyo had normalized 6 years before that, they felt that the “anti-Japanese sentiment was [still] high.” They expected a cold treatment. They expected people hurling negative slogans at them.
“To their surprise – and they were deeply honored – your president and his wife were at the airport to welcome them,” the ambassador said, referring to then president Diosdado Macapagal and his wife Eva. “That melted the tension and unease in the hearts of the young prince and princess.”
Now, Akihito, 82, is referred to as an emperor of peace. On occasions that he spoke about the war, his message had always been one of remorse. About the Philippines, specifically, his message to his people is always: be grateful for the forgiveness, but don’t forget what pain we inflicted on them.
“Although the Filipino people have forgiven the Japanese for the atrocities, the emperor says, don’t forget,” Ambassador Takashima said. “The Emperor and the Empress were talking between themselves, and they said the Filipinos are Christians so they were able to forgive.”