Nihon no Ichiban Nagai Natsu (Japan’s Longest Summer)

Edited by Kazutoshi Hando

Cover Nihon no Ichiban Nagai Natsu

Bunshun Shinsho, Bungei Shunju, October 2007, 181 pages, paperback ¥700, ISBN-13: 978-4166605941

Review by Fumiko Halloran

This thin book is a treasure for historians who study the circumstances in Japan that led to its surrender on August 15, 1945, to end World War II. Kazutoshi Hando, then a young editor at the monthly magazine Bungei Shunju, came up with the idea in 1963 to assemble 30 men and women who had had vastly different war experiences to talk about what they were doing and thinking at the time of the surrender. Hando does not say why he decided to publish the 1963 record forty four years later, but over years he has been writing and publishing detailed accounts on the war and the post-war period in Japan.

Those who took part in the discussion included Hisatsune Sakomizu, then the Chief Cabinet Secretary; Naotake Sato, ambassador to Moscow; Hitoshi Imamura, commander of the Japanese Imperial Army‘s 8th Division in New Guinea; Hajime Suzuki, son and assistant to Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki; Sukemasa Iriye, chamberlain to the emperor, who is posthumously known as the Showa Emperor; Kingo Machimura, Chief of the Metropolitan Police; and Okikatsu Arao, an army officer and confidant of General Korechika Anami, the minister of war.

Their personal accounts reveal how Japan barely escaped a coup d’etat by Imperial Army officers who were opposed to the surrender and advocated a full scale battle with the Allied landing force that they expected.

Contrary to the widely held view that Gen. Anami was opposed to the surrender, those who knew him and his thinking praised him as having been instrumental in preventing the army’s resistance to the surrender. They agreed that Anami’s top priority was to protect the emperor and the imperial system. When the emperor said in the Imperial Council that he wanted to surrender, Anami accepted it. At the time, 3.7 million troops were stationed in mainland Japan. Had Gen. Anami not exercised his authority and leadership, a breakdown in military discipline could have caused a refusal to disarm and even guerrilla warfare against the Allied forces, the participants contended. A former officer of the Palace Guard admitted at the 1963 meeting that he had contemplated doing just that.

The emperor finished recording the surrender decree in an office building inside the palace grounds during the early hours of August 15. After he returned to his residence, at around 2 a.m., a group of renegade army officers shot to death the commander of the Palace Guard, drafted a fake order by the commander to storm the palace, and occupied some guard posts. Their intention was to confiscate the recorded decree, prevent the broadcast, and force the emperor to change his mind about the surrender.

Although the soldiers looked for the record, a chamberlain to the emperor refused to disclose its location. There were actually two copies of the record, the other being in the NHK headquarters. Morio Tateno, who attended the 1963 meeting, described how soldiers threatened him at gun point in his office at NHK to force him to broadcast their appeal to soldiers all over Japan to fight to the end. But their superior officer finally persuaded them over the telephone not to resist the imperial decision. At 4 a.m., General Anami committed suicide, taking responsibility for not controlling the rebel officers who threatened the emperor. A few minutes before noon, an army officer tried to storm into NHK’s newsroom with his sword drawn to stop the broadcast. The officer’s attempt was unsuccessful. The broadcast began at noon, August 15.

Another striking revelation was how the Japanese government wasted precious time in seeking Soviet mediation to end the war. Naotake Sato, the ambassador in Moscow, said he kept sending cables to Tokyo saying it was useless to rely on the Soviets for peace but his messages were ignored.

Okikatsu Arao said the army didn’t trust the Soviets, either. He told Gen. Anami the Soviets would start attacking Japanese forces just before an American landing on mainland Japan. Sadatoshi Tomioka, the head of operations in the Imperial Navy, also said the navy believed the Soviets were likely to attack Japan during the battle in Okinawa. Sumihisa Ikeda, Deputy Chief of Staff at Guangdong Army, was called back to Tokyo in July of 1945 to work for Prime Minister Suzuki. He was stunned to learn about the peace negotiations with the Soviets because, according to him, the Guangdong army was getting ready for war against the Soviets. Shun’ichi Matsumoto, vice minister for Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo, also stated that the foreign minister never believed that Soviets would work with Japanese. Togo was a former ambassador to Moscow.

The question remains, then, who believed there was a chance the Soviets would persuade the Americans and British to end the war. In June 1945, Koichi Kido, Minister at Large and close aide to the Showa Emperor, proposed the idea to the emperor who approved it. Kido then persuaded members of the Supreme War Leaders Conference to go along and ordered the foreign ministry to open negotiations. Prince Fumimaro Konoe was selected as a special envoy to Moscow before the Potsdam Conference, but Moscow rejected the idea.

In the section following the transcript of the Bungei Shunju meeting, Hando and Prof. Ken’ichi Matsumoto of Tokyo University discussed the implication of the testimonials in 1963. Hando raised the possibility of influence of Ryuzo Sejima, an officer in the operations division of the Imperial Army’s General Staff Office in Tokyo, on senior army officers and political leaders including Sakomizu and Prime Minister Suzuki.

When Hando interviewed Sejima in 1990, Hando asked whether Sejima knew about negotiations with the Soviets on ending war. Sejima denied he had any knowledge of it. Hando did not believe him, as Sejima was in Moscow between December 1944 and February 1945, which Sejima described merely as a courier. Since Sejima was involved in every decision made by the army at the time, Hando was not convinced that Sejima was telling the truth. Hando speculates that Sejima went to Moscow with special mission to open negotiations with Soviets and persuaded the Japanese leaders to proceed. There is no way, however, to verify Hando’s suspicion since Sejima passed away in September, 2007.

This book includes the transcript of the conversation that appeared in the August 1963 issue of the magazine. The book also contains the verbatim remarks of the Showa Emperor at the last Imperial Council that accepted the conditions for surrender in the Potsdam Declaration.

A different version of this review first appeared on the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) Japan-U.S. Discussion Forum and is reproduced with permission.

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