Recently I have read the following book. Its key points and my comments are as follows:
Book title: Daikichi Irokawa, translated by Mikiso Hane and John K. Urda. 1995. The age of Hirohito: in Search of Modern Japan. The Free Press.
- History is rewritten constantly, for example the history on the Meiji emperor and Showa emperor (p.3)
- there are three theme in the book: the first one was ‘War and peace’ (it was about the peace-war-peace periods under Showa) running through the Showa period from seen from the perspective of the war victims. It was different from the conventional view that a small number of military men, with a carefully formulated plan of aggression, dragged the people and state along unwillingly into the War (p.9). The connotation was that the society as a whole should also be responsible for the War. The second theme was ‘The lifestyle revolution’: the agrarian society underwent fundamental changes into modernity. Modern urban lifestyle appeared in 1920s, increased quickly after 1945 and reached the upper limits by 1980s. The third theme was the most important: ‘The emperor and the people’. In 1945 the emperor and many top government leaders came through touched and untainted by their responsibility for the war. Through these three themes the author tries to understand the Showa period.
- the War ended when the emperor finally delivered his ‘Noble decision’ in 1945 to surrender. To absolve the emperor of all responsibility for the War because of his decision to end it would mean to ignore the facts presented in the book that showed the emperor’s involvement in war decisions when the Japanese was fighting the US in war theatre in South-east Asia etc. The emperor’s close advisors and scholars naturally wanted to defend him, but the emperor must have felt personally responsible for his poor leadership during the War (p.30).
- the introduction of major reforms by the Occupation authorities did not mean that the Japanese democratization was the product of GHQ directives only. The important players were not government authorities, but rather the popular organizations and the overwhelming number of people who enthusiastically embraced the reform measures (p.38).
- the 1960s glorious years of high-speed economic growth was also an important age in Japan’s lifestyle revolution which deserved closer examination. Three concepts were key to understand this age: the transportation revolution (the automobile society), the information revolution, and the emergence of a mass consumption society (p.59).
- today we tend to underrate the significance of the emperor’s power of supreme commandant in the years before and during the War. In that time the issue was extremely important. The argument that he accepted the decisions of the cabinet and even approved policies to which he personally opposed was clearly a mistake (p.81).
- on the international reaction to the emperor’s death in 1989, in Britain a newspaper concluded that “when he dies, there will definitely be a special seat reserved for him in hell” (p.115). A daily South Korean newspaper (the East Asian Daily) contained a sharp warning to the Japanese government and people for not having formally apologized for Japan’s brutal colonial administration and wartime deeds (p.137).
- the author does not defend the emperor system. The imperial court with its historical importance had an appropriate place in a truly modern Japan. He thinks that the emperor and his family should leave Tokyo and return to Kyoto imperial palace, his home community to enjoy life as a free citizen (p.146). The emperor should become the master of traditional japans culture so that no one could take advantage of the emperor or the court for any reason (p.146).
- the writer is a well respected Japanese scholar. He needs not depend on a famous publisher to print his book.
- in the book the author mentions the several occasions that Japan’s road to War could be averted, the so called potential turning points in history.
- the writer implies that now Japan is modern, yet the emperor system is still there, there is a danger that it could be taken advantage by someone.