Special Issue: A New Constitution for Japan? edited by Tessa Morris-Suzuki and Shinnosuke Takahashi


Hirohito: String Puller, Not Puppet ヒロヒト天皇 操り人形ではなく、操る側


Introduction: Can an Official State Record of War and Occupation Be A Truthful One?

Japanese and Chinese translation available below.



Herbert P. Bix

The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 41, No. 3, October 13, 2014


See also Herbert P. Bix and David McNeill, Selective History: Hirohito's Chronicles Japan Times October 11, 2014; and Norihiro Kato, The Journalist and the Emperor. Daring to Ask Hirohito About His Role in WWII New York Times October 15, 2014.


Selective history: Hirohito’s chronicles

Much can be learned from revisiting the life and times of imperial leaders of the twentieth-century, particularly those who were one thing in name and another in practice, or who combined power and authority but were neither dictators nor warmongers. The Showa Emperor Hirohito, who reigned from December 25, 1926, to his death on January 7, 1989, was such a person.


As imperial Japan’s wartime leader in the years 1931-45, the emperor exerted a high degree of influence and continuous oversight of the policy making process. Working with key individuals in his entourage, he practiced dissimulation, authorized force, and cleaved to a distinctive type of Machiavellianism. A contradictory ruler, he played many roles, and did not always act according to reason. He could caution his closest subordinates to bear in mind his spirit of benevolent rule, then turn right around on the same day and sanction the use of poison gas against Nationalist forces in China. From the moment Japan began its “total war” in China in 1937 his legal and moral responsibility for waging wars of aggression mounted.  Again and again he found himself prodding the major players in his oligarchic decision-making process, reconciling differences among them, and gradually becoming a real wartime leader. Along the way, rather than wielding his influence to stop the momentum for war, he kept making one disastrous political decision after another.


Now, the release by the Imperial Household Agency on September 9, 2014, of the largest official account of the Showa Emperor’s life, based on a trove of previously inaccessible and in some cases unknown documents and diaries, has made possible new discoveries about the emperor. At the same time the Agency has tried to control public debate both through its own choice of materials and by encouraging selective media reporting and interpretation of its narrative. Because of its many omissions, the new official biography of Emperor Hirohito could be called a monumental effort at concealment, reinforcing prewar myths and raising more questions than it answers. By touching also on the timing of this event, the following article suggests that the Japanese government is still trying to shape historical consciousness in the service of a nationalistic political agenda—just as the U.S. government is attempting to present to Americans a sanitized official history of  American war crimes throughout the Vietnam War era.



Hirohito: String Puller, Not Puppet


Herbert P. Bix


Originally published in the New York Times, September 29, 2014.


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — LAST month, I received a startling email from an employee at one of Japan’s largest newspapers, about a development I’d long awaited. The government was about to unveil a 12,000-page, 61-volume official biography of Emperor Hirohito, which a large team of scholars and civil servants had been preparing since 1990, the year after his death.


I was asked if I would examine an embargoed excerpt from this enormous trove and then comment on the emperor’s perspective on various events, including Japan’s 1937 expansion of its conflict in China and its decision four years later to go to war with the United States and Britain; the trial of war criminals; the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and the American military occupation of postwar Japan.


But there was a condition: I could not discuss Hirohito’s “role and responsibility” in World War II, which would be strictly outside the scope of the newspaper’s reporting. Having devoted years of my life to examining precisely this topic, I politely refused.


The release of Hirohito’s official biography should be an occasion for reflection around the world on a war that, in the Pacific theater, took the lives of at least 20 million Asians (including more than three million Japanese) and more than 100,000 citizens of the Western Allied nations, primarily the United States and Britain.


Instead, Japan’s Imperial Household Agency, abetted by the Japanese media, has dodged important questions about events before, during and after the war. The new history perpetuates the false but persistent image — endorsed by the Allied military occupation, led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur — of a benign, passive figurehead.


As I and other scholars have tried to show, Hirohito, from the start of his rule in 1926, was a dynamic, activist and conflicted monarch who operated within a complex system of irresponsibility inherited from his grandfather, the Meiji emperor, who oversaw the start of Japan’s epochal modernization. Hirohito (known in Japan as Showa, the name of his reign) represented an ideology and an institution — a system constructed to allow the emperor to interject his will into the decision-making process, before prime ministers brought cabinet decisions to him for his approval. Because he operated behind the scenes, the system allowed his advisers to later insist that he had acted only in accordance with their advice.

In fact, Hirohito was never a puppet. He failed to prevent his army from invading Manchuria in 1931, which caused Japan to withdraw from the League of Nations, but he sanctioned the full-scale invasion of China in 1937, which moved Japan into a state of total war. He exercised close control over the use of chemical weapons in China and sanctioned the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Even after the war, when a new, American-modeled Constitution deprived him of sovereignty, he continued to meddle in politics.


From what I’ve read, the new history suffers from serious omissions in editing, and the arbitrary selection of documents. This is not just my view. The magazine Bungei Shunju asked three writers, Kazutoshi Hando, Masayasu Hosaka and Michifumi Isoda, to read parts of the history. They pointed out, in the magazine’s October issue, significant omissions. Only the first of the emperor’s 11 meetings with General MacArthur was mentioned in detail. Instead, the scholars noted Hirohito’s schoolboy writings and commented on trivialities like the discovery of the place where his placenta was buried.

That does not mean that the project is without merit. Researchers collected 3,152 primary materials, including some previously not known to exist, such as the memoirs of Adm. Saburo Hyakutake, the emperor’s aide-de-camp from 1936 to 1944. They documented Hirohito’s messages to Shinto deities, fleshing out his role as chief priest of the state religion. They collected vital materials on the exact times, dates and places of imperial audiences with civil and military officials and diplomats.


Hirohito was a timid opportunist, eager above all to preserve the monarchy he had been brought up to defend. War was not essential to his nature, as it was for Hitler and Europe’s fascists. The new history details his concern over the harsh punishments enacted in 1928 to crush leftist and other opposition to Japan’s rising militarism and ultranationalism. It elaborates on his role in countering a coup attempt in 1936 by young Army officers who wanted to install an even more right-wing, militaristic government. It notes that he cried for only the second time in his life when his armed forces were dissolved.


The official history confirms Hirohito’s bullheadedness in delaying surrender when it was clear that defeat was inevitable. He hoped desperately to enlist Stalin’s Soviet Union to obtain more favorable peace terms. Had Japan surrendered sooner, the firebombing of its cities, and the two atomic bombings, might have been avoided.


Why does all this matter, nearly 70 years since the end of the war?


Unlike Germany, where acceptance of responsibility for the Nazis’ crimes is embedded in government policy, Japan’s government has never engaged in a full-scale reckoning of its wartime conduct. This is partly because of the anti-imperialist dimension of the war it fought against Western powers, and partly because of America’s support for European colonialism in the early Cold War. But it is also a result of a deliberate choice — abetted by the education system and the mass media, with notable exceptions — to overlook or distort issues of accountability.


The new history comes at a politically opportune time. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party government is waging a campaign to pump up nationalist pride. Mr. Abe has made no secret of his desire to enhance the monarchy’s status in a revised “peace constitution” that would rewrite Article 9, which prohibits Japan from maintaining offensive forces.

The very idea of a carefully vetted official biography of a leader fits within the Sino-Japanese historical tradition, but raises deep suspicions of a whitewash, as well as issues of contemporary relevance. Okinawans cannot take pride in the way Hirohito sacrificed them, by consenting to indefinite American military control of their island. Japan’s neighbors, like South Korea and the Philippines, cannot be reassured by the way its wartime past is overlooked or played down, but neither can they be reassured by America’s confrontational, militaristic approach toward Chinese assertiveness.


After Hirohito died, in 1989, there was an outpouring of interest in his reign and a decade-long debate about his war responsibility. Now, after decades of mediocre economic performance, generational divides have deepened and the Japanese may not take much note. If so, a crucial opportunity to improve relations with Asian neighbors and deepen understanding of the causes of aggression will have been lost.


Herbert P. Bix, emeritus professor of history and sociology at Binghamton University, is the author of Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan.


The following is a Japanese translation by The Asia-Pacific Journal.

論説 | 寄稿記事


マサチューセッツ州ケンブリッジ: 先月、ある日本の主要紙にいる人物から、私が長いこと待ち望んでいたテーマに関し、驚くようなEメールをもらった。ヒロヒト天皇の死後翌年の1990年から大勢の学者と宮内庁職員で編成されたチームが編纂してきた61巻、1万2000ページにもおよぶヒロヒト天皇の公式の伝記(「昭和天皇実録」)が発表されるというのだ。































ハーバート・P・ビックスは、ニューヨーク州立大学ビンガムトン校歴史/社会学科名誉教授。『Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (ヒロヒト天皇と近代日本の形成)』(日本語版は講談社学術文庫『昭和天皇』上・下巻)の著者


The following Chinese translation was first presented here.




马萨诸塞州坎布里奇——上个月,我收到了一封令人惊讶的邮件。日本一家大型报纸的工作人员,向我通知了一个期 待已久的进展。日本政府将发布裕仁天皇(Emperor Hirohito)的官方传记,这部传记长达1.2万页,共有61卷。1990年,也就是在裕仁天皇逝世一年后,一支规模庞大的学者和公务员团队,开始了 编篡传记的工作。







但在日本媒体的怂恿下,日本宫内厅(Imperial Household Agency)回避了一些涉及战前、战中及战后事件的重要问题。新传记延续了一种虚假但持久的形象——裕仁天皇是一个和善而被动的傀儡。这一形象也得到了由道格拉斯·麦克阿瑟(Douglas MacArthur)领导的驻日盟军的认可。


就像我和其他学者努力证明的那样,裕仁天皇自1926年登 基开始,就是一个强势、激进且矛盾的君主,他继承了其祖父明治天皇(Meiji)建立的复杂的免责制度,并在其中开展行动。日本划时代的现代化进程,就是 由明治天皇开启的。裕仁天皇(在日本被称为昭和天皇[Showa],昭和是他在位期间的年号)代表着一种意识形态,也代表着一种制度——在首相将内阁的决 定上奏天皇寻求批准之前,天皇就能按自己的意愿干预决策过程。由于他是在幕后行动,他的顾问们事后就可以坚称,天皇只是根据他们的建议行事。


实际上,裕仁天皇绝不是一个傀儡。1931年,他没能阻止 日军侵略满洲,导致日本退出国际联盟(League of Nations),但他在1937年批准了日本全面侵华的行动,使得日本进入全面战争状态。他严格控制着日军在中国使用化学武器的行动,并批准日军于 1941年袭击珍珠港。即便是在战后,依照美国意见制定的新宪法剥夺了他的统治权,他仍然在插手政治。


从我阅读的内容来看,新传记的编撰存在严重遗漏,任意选用 材料的问题。这不仅仅是我的观点。《文艺春秋》(Bungei Shunju)杂志邀请了三位作家半藤一利(Kazutoshi Hando)、保阪正康(Masayasu Hosaka)和矶田道史(Michifumi Isoda)阅读传记的部分内容。他们在《文艺春秋》10月刊中指出,传记存在重大遗漏。在裕仁天皇与麦克阿瑟将军的11次会面中,只有第一次会面得到了 详细描述。可是学者们却看到了裕仁天皇学生时期的文章,以及他对一些琐事的评论,比如他发现了自己胎盘的掩埋处。


这并不意味着该传记毫无价值。研究人员收集了3152份原 始资料,其中一些内容过去从未公之于众,比如在1936年至1944年期间担任侍从长的百武三郎大将(Saburo Hyakutake)的回忆录。他们记录了裕仁天皇对神道教神祇的话语,完善了有关他是日本国教最高祭司的说法。他们搜集了一些重要资料,记录了天皇接见 文武官员及外交官的确切时间、日期及地点。


裕仁天皇是一个胆怯的机会主义者,急于维护自己生来就要保 卫的君权。不像希特勒(Hitler)和欧洲的法西斯主义者,好战在他的天性中并非关键成分。日本军国主义和极端民族主义情绪高涨之时,一些民众表达了反 对,1928年,日本采取严厉措施,对于左派和这些反对派进行打压。新传记中详细阐述了裕仁天皇对此番打压行动的忧虑。书中还详细记述了他在1936年应 对日本陆军青年军官政变时扮演的角色,那些军官希望建立一个更加右倾、更加军事化的政府。传记中写道,裕仁天皇在军队解散时流了泪,这是他一生中第二次流 泪。






在德国,为纳粹罪行承担责任是政府政策的一部分。与德国不 同,日本政府从来没有充分正视其在战争中的行为。这一定程度上是因为,日本与西方列强的战争存在反对帝国主义的维度,且美国在冷战初期曾支持欧洲的殖民主 义。不过,这也是日本刻意选择忽视和歪曲战争责任问题的结果,教育体系和大众传媒起到了推波助澜的作用,尽管有一些明显的例外。


这份新传记的编纂恰逢一个政治上很讨巧的时机。日本首相安 倍晋三(Shinzo Abe)领导的自民党政府,目前正在发动一场意在提升民族主义自豪感的运动。安倍晋三修改“和平宪法”的尝试,明确显示出了他为这个君主立宪制国家提升地 位的渴望。修改后的宪法将改写禁止日本保留进攻部队的第九条。


在中国和日本的历史传统中,对一位领袖的官方传记进行仔细 审查的做法屡见不鲜,但这往往会让人们深深地怀疑,传记中有没有掩盖事实,是否忠实记述了与当下相关的种种问题。裕仁天皇同意美国军方无限期控制冲绳,对 于这种牺牲冲绳利益的做法,冲绳人不可能毫无怨言。日本忽视或弱化其战争历史的做法无疑会让韩国和菲律宾等邻国如芒在背。不过,面对中国的强硬态度时,美 国采取的对抗性、军事化的手段也同样会让它们坐立不安。


裕仁天皇1989年去世之后,人们曾对他的统治产生了极大 的兴趣,并就他在战争中的责任进行了长达10年的讨论。如今,在温吞的经济状况持续几十年后,随着代沟的加深,日本人可能已经不那么关注他了。若真如此, 日本就失去了一个改善与亚洲邻国关系、加深对战争诱因理解的重要机会。


赫伯特·P·比克斯(Herbert P. Bix)是宾厄姆顿大学历史及社会学名誉教授,著有《真相-裕仁天皇与侵华战争》。






Asia-Pacific Journal articles on related themes include:


Herbert Bix, War Responsibility and Historical Memory: Hirohito's Appariation


Herbert Bix, Hirohito and History: Japanese and American Perspectives on the Emperor and World War II in Asia


Herbert Bix, The Emperor, Modern Japan and the US Japan Relationship: an Interview with Herbert Bix