In the spring of 1945 Emperor Hirohito reportedly said, “If we hold out long enough in this war, we may be able to win, but what worries me is whether the nation will be able to endure it until then.”1 The emperor issued an imperial rescript ordering the nation to “smash the inordinate ambitions of the enemy nations and achieve the goals of war.”2 At this point he refused to surrender out of fear for the destruction of the emperor system and imperial, as opposed to popular, sovereignty.

Operation Ketsugo, a policy of defending the Japanese homeland by relying heavily on suicide missions, was Japan’s military strategy. This included manufacturing weapons, or special attack planes, solely for the purpose of kamikaze missions, human torpedoes shot from submarines and dynamite-filled crash boats. By early June 1945 the Imperial Diet took one further step and passed a Wartime Emergency Measures Law, designed to mobilize the entire nation for one last battle.

By mid-June 1945 Hirohito’s stance began to shift as his empire was collapsing. Japan’s oil supply had been completely cut off for months and huge sections of more than 60 Japanese cities were in ruins. Once the first atomic weapons were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States, and Soviet forces further encroached into regions of China held by Japan, Emperor Hirohito finally agreed to surrender. On August 15, 1945, he read Gyokuon-hoso, or “Jewel Voice Broadcast,” a four-minute radio address surrendering to the United States and its Allied forces.

The speech was a watershed moment in modern Japanese history. It was the first time the emperor had spoken to the “common people” of Japan and the first time they had ever heard the sound of his voice. His announcement ended the war, set the nation on another course of transformation some 87 years after the beginning of the Meiji era, and sealed the end of imperial Japan. Portions of the speech are included below:

To Our Good and Loyal Subjects:

After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in Our Empire today, We have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure.

We have ordered Our Government to communicate to the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that Our Empire accepts the provisions of their Joint Declaration [Potsdam Declaration].

To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations as well as the security and well-being of Our subjects is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by Our Imperial Ancestors and which lies close to Our heart.

Indeed, We declared war on America and Britain out of Our sincere desire to ensure Japan’s self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from Our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement.

But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by everyone—the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of Our servants of the State, and the devoted service of Our one hundred million people—the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest. . . .

Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should We continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.

Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.

We cannot but express the deepest sense of regret to Our Allied nations of East Asia, who have consistently cooperated with the Empire towards the emancipation of East Asia.

The thought of those officers and men as well as others who have fallen in the fields of battle, those who died at their posts of duty, or those who met with untimely death and all their bereaved families, pains Our heart night and day.

The welfare of the wounded and the war-sufferers, and of those who have lost their homes and livelihood, are the objects of Our profound solicitude.

The hardships and sufferings to which Our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of theinmost feelings of all of you, Our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable.

Having been able to safeguard and maintain the structure of the Imperial State, or kokutai, We are always with you, Our good and loyal subjects, relying upon your sincerity and integrity.

Beware most strictly of any outbursts of emotion which may engender needless complications, or any fraternal contention and strike which may create confusion, lead you astray and cause you to lose the confidence of the world.

Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith in the imperishability of its sacred land, and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibility, and of the long road before it. Unite your total strength, to be devoted to construction for the future. Cultivate the ways of rectitude, foster nobility of spirit, and work with resolution—so that you mayenhance the innate glory of the Imperial State and keep pace with the progress of the world.

All you, our subjects, we command you to act in accordance with our wishes.

Hirohito

(The Seal of the Emperor)

The fourteenth day of the eighth month of the twentieth year

of Showa3

Less than a month after the broadcast, the formal surrender of Japan was convened with the signing of the Instruments of Surrender documents aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Representatives of the Allied and Axis powers met to “conclude an agreement by which peace can be restored.” After General Douglas MacArthur read his opening remarks, the Japanese representatives of the Empire of Japan stepped forward to sign the two copies of the Instruments of Surrender. (See Source 2: Text of the Instruments of Surrender of Japan [close reading].)

In China the formal surrender of Japanese forces occurred several weeks later on September 9, 1945, in Nanjing. The former capital city, which endured rape, murder, and destruction of property of unimaginable scale in the early months of World War II, now accepted the surrender of the Japanese Imperial forces.

 

General Douglas MacArthur observes as Japanese Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru signs the Instrument of Surrender.

Citations

  • 1 : Herbert Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (New York: Harper Perennial, 2001), 489.
  • 2 : Ibid., 494.
  • 3 : Wm. Theodore de Bary, Carol Gluck, and Arthur L. Tiedemann, eds., Sources of Japanese Tradition, 2nd edition, vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 1016–17.

Connection Questions

  1. Emperor Hirohito states in his speech:

    Indeed, We [Japan] declared war on America and Britain out of Our sincere desire to ensure Japan's self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from Our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement.

    What do you think Hirohito is arguing in this paragraph? How did he try to justify Japan’s actions?

  2. Create a working definition of the term surrender. What are some possible consequences for a nation when it surrenders? Why would the Emperor fear if Japan surrendered this would threaten its kokutai, or national essence?
  3. As you read his speech, what message does he want to give his audience? Who seems to be in Hirohito’s circle of responsibility? What challenges do you imagine survivors and other victims of the atrocities in Japan would face in their efforts to seek justice? Make sure to cite evidence from the text to support your answer.
  4. Compare the address given by Emperor Hirohito to the actual Text of the Instruments of Surrender of Japan. What similarities and differences in language do you notice? How similar or different is the tone of the two sources?
  5. In Chapter One of this resource, Japanese author Ōe Kenzaburō recalls how his mother cried after hearing Emperor Hirohito’s speech on the radio. After reading the written text of the Emperor’s radio address, choose several lines you believe would have been difficult for everyday Japanese like Ōe’s mother. Why would these statements been difficult to hear?

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