Saturday, March 04, 2017

Hirohito: Emperor of Japan

Hirohito: Emperor of Japan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was watching the Netflix series The Crown around the time I was reading this, and all I can think of the book was cliché. Not because there are similar themes running through the stories of the British throne and this Japanese one, and there is. But mainly because it feels untrue, copied; that it’s not fact when Hirohito: Emperor of Japan, especially, as biography it should be.

The common thread in those two which is more apparent in Hirohito: Emperor of Japan is that the throne is a prison as much as it is a position with which to rule. As one who has never occupied a position that can barely command the loyalty of 5, and also one whose country was ravaged by Japan during the Second World War it feels untrue. The head of an empire makes things possible; he’s no one’s prisoner.

According to the book he is to the sea. Hirohito is the type of man who quite literally would be contented spending a day at the sea collecting whatever samples that strike his fancy. He loved this so much that after the war, when he could bare this entire hobby out in the open, he’s a recognized marine biologist. Of course during the war this was discouraged because being knee deep or diving into sea collecting samples is not inspiring for dreams of conquest.

He’s a god. Hirohito does not deal with people very much perhaps because by custom everyone should bow so low at his presence that meaningful conversation is impossible. This is why he envied the British monarchs in a way. It also makes him unable to cope with the people around him.

Then there’s the system that sounds like a shogunate; the emperor controlled by a military dictator but now only it’s always the militarists, no dictator. Certain personalities come up during the years prior to World War II – prime minister, minister of war, council of elders – but no single one jumps out as the mind behind it all manipulating the system to war. I suppose you can call whoever was stuck on top when war broke out as red handed but where is the shogun? Is Leonard Mosley saying the system just went wild without an instigator?

In fact he only ventured near the term shogun when Douglas McArthur came in as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP). Always just the militarists.

Hirohito was spared becoming the biggest scalp on a war crimes trial in part out of necessity. The book quotes McArthur as having admired the emperor for even offering his scalp to which the SCAP refused. His survival and that of the system he represents was the only thing Japan wanted out of unconditional surrender.

The book makes thesis that Hirohito being a docile marine biologist that he is was always antiwar. He just didn’t have the chops to stop the war to near comedic effect. There are chapters that say that the war had almost last minute chances of never even starting if only someone talked.

To say a king or an emperor is simply just a puppet or a conqueror (like Alexander the Great) is overly simplistic. High ground (the throne) indeed takes control but the high ground can also mean surrounded and under siege. It’s a day to day struggle this business of ruling. In the end Hirohito’s word was god’s; war is over.

Was he always a puppet? Was he always a god?