Echoes From The Past

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Next weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two and the surrender of Japan.  On August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito of Japan took to the airwaves to announce to the people of Japan that the war was over.  Although the memory of his words still echoes today, the speech itself was considered lost to history - until this week, when the Imperial Household Agency released an enhanced, digital version of the original recording ahead of the 70th anniversary of the speech and the war's end.  The 4 1/2 minute speech is now available for anyone to hear.  Here’s a link:

(The video also contains an English-Language transcript.)


The language of the speech itself is quite unusual.  The Emperor’s words were carefully chosen, but are also extremely difficult to understand for most Japanese listeners, owing not only to the poor quality of the transmission, but also to the sophisticated language that the Emperor chose for his speech.  In the speech the Emperor, also known as Emperor Showa, announced the nation's acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration, which demanded Japan's unconditional surrender, pledging "to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable”.  The speech was recorded on August 14 at the Imperial Palace and the emperor's announcement was broadcast at noon the following day. The speech marked the first time most Japanese heard the emperor's voice.  However, if you listen, you will hear vocabulary and manners of speech that are quite uncommon in everyday Japanese.  


The speech itself was dramatic, to be sure, but it almost never happened. Amid fear of violent protest by army officials refusing to end the war, the recording of Emperor Hirohito's announcement was made secretly. NHK technicians were quietly called in for the recording. At almost midnight, Emperor Hirohito appeared in his formal military uniform, and read the statement into the microphone, twice, deep in a bunker on the grounds of the Imperial Palace.  However, meanwhile a group of young army officers stormed into the palace in a failed attempt to steal the records and block the surrender speech.  Nevertheless, palace officials desperately protected the records, which were safely delivered to NHK for radio transmission the next day. 


Along with the recording, the Imperial Household Agency also released never-before-seen photos of the bunker itself, deep in the ground near the Imperial Palace.  The bunker is now dilapidated and has fallen into disrepair.  However, the room where the Emperor read his historic words remains.  


The drama of the last two days of the war, leading to Emperor Hirohito's radio address was made into a film, "Japan's Longest Day," in 1967. That film, a classic, included Chishū Ryū as Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki, Toshirō Mifune as War Minister Korechika Anami, Takashi Shimura as Information Bureau Director Hiroshi Shimomura and Sō Yamamura as Navy Minister Mitsumasa Yonai.  A remake called “The Emperor in August” hit Japanese theaters this weekend. The film chronicles the last 2 days of the war, and the efforts of Emperor Hirohito to end the war.  Here’s a trailer:





The Japan Times

The Japan News

Asahi Shinbun