A televised speech by Emperor Akihito of Japan is being described by the country’s media as his final act of resistance against the prime minister, a bid to halt the return to Japan’s aggressive pre-war attitudes and policies as Japan’s remilitarization is steadily underway with a revived weapons industry and rising armaments sales.
The emperor remembers the war and its aftermath first hand and was thought to be making a lightly veiled reference to these issues in some passages: “I have considered that the first and foremost duty of the Emperor is to pray for peace and the happiness of all the people. At the same time, I also believe that in some cases it is essential to stand by the people, listen to their voices, and be close to them in their thoughts.”
Mari Yamamoto in the IAC/InterActiveCorp’s Newsweek/Daily Beast notes that in recent years, the emperor’s speeches and those of Crown Prince Naruhito have been studied for their sentiments on the importance of pacifism and the post-war constitution:
“They have remembered honestly Japan’s crimes during the war, and voiced subtle opposition to the renewed militarism of the current administration”
She adds that the Emperor and his wife, Empress Michiko, have reigned more than 27 years as quiet symbols of a pacifist nation, living voices reminding the Japanese people of the horrific past that the country endured and that Imperial Japan imposed on others, whereas Prime Minister Abe and his political allies have long derided Japan’s constitution as a humiliation imposed upon the Japanese people by the United States occupation government, impinging on “basic human rights.”
On his birthday in 2013, the Emperor said: “After the war, Japan was occupied by the Allied forces and, based on peace and democracy as values to be upheld, established the Constitution of Japan, undertook various reforms and built the foundation of Japan that we know today. I have profound gratitude for the efforts made by the Japanese people at the time, who helped reconstruct and improve the country devastated by the war. I also feel that we must not forget the help extended to us in those days by Americans with an understanding of Japan and Japanese culture.”
Abe’s visit to the shrine and the problems surrounding it were taken up in the 2015 US government report, Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress (PDF). The Imperial Family, even during the previous emperor’s reign came to an end, stopped paying their respects after fourteen convicted war criminals were enshrined in 1978. Neither the current emperor nor the crown prince has visited Yasukuni since.
In recent years, the Royal Couple have visited the sites where Japanese soldiers died overseas, expressing their condolences also to the foreign nationals killed in the war, but in contrast Abe and many in his party are known supporters of the Yasukuni Shrine where Japan’s convicted war criminals such as Hideki Tojo are remembered.
“Everything the Emperor says is correct,” said the acting head of Nippon Kaigi, Tadae Takubo, in a press conference last month – a pronouncement which puts Abe and his cabinet in a difficult position.
Will he retire and see his wishes respected in a pacifist Japan, with a constitution that guarantees basic human rights and renounces war?