Friday 20 April 2018

Japan releases Hirohito's war-end speech in digital form

Emperor Hirohito pictured in 1988 waving as his son, Crown Prince Akihito, looks on during an imperial garden party in Tokyo (AP)
Emperor Hirohito pictured in 1988 waving as his son, Crown Prince Akihito, looks on during an imperial garden party in Tokyo (AP)
a container which stored the original recording of Japan's Emperor Hirohito's war-ending speech and another after-war address in Tokyo (Imperial Household Agency of Japan/AP)

The original recording of Japan's Emperor Hirohito's war-ending speech has come back to life in digital form.

Hirohito's four-and-half-minute "jewel voice" was broadcast on August 15 1945, announcing Japan's surrender.

The voice on the radio 70 years ago was muffled and nearly inaudible due to poor sound quality. This version may be clearer, but Japanese today would still have trouble understanding the arcane language used by the emperor.

The original sound has been released by the Imperial Household Agency in digital format, ahead of the 70th anniversary of the speech and the war's end.

The emperor's voice sounds slightly higher and more intense than the familiar recording that was heard on TV and elsewhere as a replica of the 1945 broadcast.

"The language was extremely difficult," said Tomie Kondo, 92, who listened to the 1945 broadcast in a monitoring room at NHK public broadcaster, where she worked as a newscaster.

"It's well written if you read it, but I'm afraid not many people understood what he said," she said. Poor reception and sound quality of the radio made it even worse.

"I heard some people even thought they were supposed to fight even more," she said. "I think the speech would be incomprehensive to young people today."

Every Japanese knows a part of the speech where Hirohito refers to his resolve for peace by "enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable", a phrase repeatedly used in news and dramas about the war.

But the rest is little known, largely because the text he read was deliberately written in arcane language making him sound authoritative and convincing as he sought people's understanding about Japan's surrender.

Amid growing concern among many Japanese over nationalist prime minister Shinzo Abe's push to expand Japan's military role, the current Emperor Akihito is increasingly seen as liberal and pacifist, and the effort by his father Hirohito to end the war has captured national attention.

On the eve of the announcement, Hirohito met top government officials to approve Japan's surrender inside a bunker dug at the palace compound.

Amid fear of violent protest by army officials refusing to end the war, the recording of Hirohito's announcement was made secretly. NHK technicians were quietly called in for the recording. At almost midnight, Hirohito appeared in his formal military uniform, and read the statement into the microphone, twice.

A group of young army officers stormed into the palace in a failed attempt to steal the records and block the surrender speech, but palace officials desperately protected the records, which were safely delivered to NHK for radio transmission the next day.

Speaking in unique intonation that drops at the end of sentences, Hirohito opens his 1945 address with Japan's decision to accept the condition of surrender. He also expresses "the deepest sense of regret" to Asian countries that co-operated with Japan to gain "emancipation" from Western colonisation.

Hirohito also laments devastation caused by "a new and most cruel bomb" dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and asks everyone to stay calm while helping to reconstruct the country.

Its significance is that Hirohito, who at the time was considered a living deity, made the address, said Takahisa Furukawa, a historian at Nihon University in Tokyo.

"What's most important is the emperor reached out to the people to tell them that they had to surrender and end the war," he said.

"The speech is a reminder of what it took to end the wrong war."

Press Association

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News