NHK’S CHRONIC MISINTERPRETATION OF JAPAN’S WAR HISTORY
Japanese public broadcaster NHK airs special television features about Japan’s last war every summer. But in more than a few of these features—for instance, “Japan Debut” (aired April-June, 2009) and “The Truth of Harbin Unit 731: Elite Doctors and Human Experimentation” (August 13, 2017)—historical facts are biased, distorted, and fictionalized. That is the reason why I have made it a rule not to view them.
This summer, however, I felt I must view at least two of them in light of the importance of the subjects chosen—Death of Freedom in Japan: Road to War and the Role of a Newspaper (hereafter, “Death of Freedom”) and Secret Diaries of Grand Steward Surfaced: What Emperor Showa Had to Say about the War (hereafter “Secret Diaries”).
“Death of Freedom” aired on August 12, purportedly sheds light on the conservative prewar daily Nippon Shimbun, which was in publication only for a decade (1925-35). “Secret Diaries,” aired five days later, is based on diaries compiled by the late Michiji Tajima, the first Grand Steward of the Imperial Household Agency founded after the war to take charge of state matters concerning the Imperial Family. These two features are heavily dramatized, with professional actors employed to play key roles.
At the risk of sounding cynical, I confess that I found “Death of Freedom” typical of NHK’s “history specials” with its shallow treatment of historic facts. I had many doubts with “Secret Diaries.”
As for the former, a male narrator tells the story in a dark voice of the Nippon Shimbun, which was inaugurated two years after the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923) by Justice Minister Heikichi Ogawa with a number of political and military heavyweights as its supporters, including rightwing political leader Kiichiro Hiranuma and Hideki Tojo. The narrator introduces them as “sharing an unswerving faith in a Japan committed to an unbroken imperial line stretching back for all time, as expressed in the 1889 Meiji constitution.”
In this way, HK treats faith in “the unbroken imperial line”—one of the basic principles constituting our national character, and expressed as such not only in the Meiji constitution but the current constitution—as an archaic value that must be condemned.
In a nutshell, “Death of Freedom” delivers the message that the principle of “Nipponshugi (Japanism)” that the Nippon Shimbun upheld as the foundation of Japan’s national polity was the decisive factor that drove Japan to fanatic militarism.
NHK Sorely Lacking Ardent Historic Research
I found “Death of Freedom” extremely unconvincing. It was created by merely skimming the surface of significant historic events and happenings, incoherently putting bits and pieces of cursory information together in a documentary fashion. But none of the causes and effects of the pertinent historic events the feature tackles is backed by thoroughly researched evidence. One cannot but feel an increasing anger to realize that NHK has produced this obviously costly but absurd feature with the monthly license fees it arbitrary charges the public.
The Nippon Shimbun, which NHK asserts was so influential it stirred up waves of extreme militarism across Japan and drove the nation to the Greater East Asia War, was in fact a small newspaper with a daily circulation of barely 16,000. Besides, it was in circulation only for ten years—until 1935—as mentioned earlier. If the daily had really been as powerful as NHK argues—in other words, if the people of Japan had supported it so enthusiastically—one wonders why in the world it was forced to cease publication in such a relatively short period of time.
There was a national daily that was exceedingly influential in Japan at the time—the Asahi Shimbun, which was inaugurated in Osaka in 1879 nearly a half century before the Nippon Shimbun. The Asahi advanced to Tokyo nine years later, establishing itself as Japan’s leading daily with a circulation exceeding one million the year before the Nippon Shimbun was launched. The Asahi increased its circulation by exalting the military as it first pushed into Manchuria and then on into China. Why has NHK treated the negligibly small Nippon Shimbun as the only media outlet that fanned militarism in Japan? NHK’s neglect of serious historic research is appalling.
The “Secret Diaries” is based on diaries Tajima kept 1949-53 while serving Emperor Showa as his grand steward. They are referred to as the “Haietsu-ki (Records of Audiences with the Emperor).” Behind NHK’s close scheduling of these two features, I suspect an intent to link the evils of militarism to the revision of our constitution that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has set out to implement. Tajima’s diaries make it crystal clear that Emperor Hirohito eagerly longed for Japan’s rearmament and a constitutional revision after the war.
Before delving further into the diaries, I wish to point out that NHK has yet to disclose their full content. Which means viewers of NHK TV have been unable to determine to what extent the feature reflects the full scope of what Tajima has to convey in his diary.
Although NHK circulated materials excerpted from the Tajima diaries among members of the reporters’ club of the Imperial Household Agency, these do not represent the diaries in their entirety but only what Tajima’s family allowed NHK to excerpt from the diaries. NHK explained that the materials were what Tajima’s family had allowed to use or make public. Japanese media outlets, including newspapers, have reported on the diaries based solely on the materials NHK made available. As a result, the reports the club’s members have filed are fundamentally no different from NHK’s. This helps reinforce the broadcaster’s views on the diaries.
There is one more pertinent point I wish to make. Although NHK has advertised the Tajima diaries as “a confidential document (that has been) made public for the first time,” I wish to point out that this is not true. In point of fact, the diaries were already introduced 16 years ago by journalist Ms Kyoko Kato in the Chuo Koron Monthly in its June 2003 issue and the Bungei Shunju Monthly a month later. Kato wrote that Emperor Hirohito had incessantly expressed “remorse” over the past and regretted Japan’s entry in the war. In “Death of Freedom,” an actor playing Hirohito’s part echoes his sentiment in a grave tone.
“Political Manipulation” of Emperor Taboo
At the time, the Bungei Shunju magazine ran a full text of a “Draft of Emperor Showa’s Apology to the People of Japan” that Kato had put together with this subhead: “Lack of Our Virtue Makes Us Feel Deep Shame.” While depicting Tajima agonizing over how to help Emperor Showa say what he had in mind, Kato noted that the draft met strong objections from Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida and other leaders, eventually forcing Tajima to replace some of the expressions in the draft they thought problematical, such as the emperor’s “remorse” over the past, with “harmless and inoffensive” words or phrases.
A new aspect of NHK’s report on the diaries was its introduction of a reenactment of the dialogue between the emperor and his grand chamberlain concerning these matters.
On the other hand, the strongest impression the documentary left with me was Hirohito’s strong desire for Japan’s rearmament and a constitutional revision. Previously, we could only assume his sentiment on the basis of poems and songs he had composed.
In 1952, in the midst of the Korean War, the emperor would frequently mention the need for Japan to rearm itself and revise its constitution. On February 11, he stated: “I would think it proper to implement rearmament openly and resolutely without referring to other revisions.” Then on March 11, he was quoted as stating: “No armament would be necessary if our world was devoid of aggressors. So long as there inevitably are aggressors in human society, however, Japan will inevitably require an armed forces of its own.” As regards the anti-US bases protests rampant across Japan at the time, Tajima quoted the emperor as stating on June 1,1953: “Idealism that ignores reality is a problem.”
Coming to grips with how Showa Emperor felt about the crisis that confronted Japan at the time thanks to what little has been revealed of the diaries, one is deeply moved by his readiness to express concern about the welfare of the people of Japan. But then, both the people and the government must remain vigilant as regards the emperor’s postwar position as the symbol of Japan totally detached from politics. All of we Japanese must strictly refrain from making any attempt to manipulate the emperor politically.
One wonders if diaries of this delicate nature should have been disclosed. So far, not a few of the emperor’s past aides have made public various notes and diaries they had written while serving him. But I am of the opinion that one must be extremely careful about disclosing the information concerning the emperor obtainable in the course of his duties. If such information is disclosed, however, we will be naturally inclined to read it with keen interest.
But I feel rather strongly that revealing what the emperor has told his aides could be a betrayal of his trust in those who have served him. Unless such information is protected with discipline and particular care, how can we safeguard the future of the Imperial Family as well as our own as citizens of Japan who have adored the Imperial Family over generations? I consider it necessary to bind those who serve the emperor with strict rules as regards publicizing information pertaining to him and his family. (The End)
(Translated from “renaissance Japan” column no. 867 in the September 12, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)