Sun, Aug 02, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Emperor Hirohito war-end speech remastered

UNIQUE INTONATION:The WWII surrender announcement by emperor Hirohito has been digitally remastered, capturing the tones of a speech considered incomprehensible


The entrance of a bunker at the palace compound is pictured in Tokyo yesterday, where Japanese emperor Hirohito met with government officials to approve Japan’s surrender in World War II.

Photo: AFP

The four-minute speech that has reverberated throughout Japan’s modern history since it was delivered by Japanese emperor Hirohito at the end of World War II has come back to life in digital form.

Hirohito’s “jewel voice” — muffled and nearly inaudible due to poor sound quality — was broadcast on Aug. 15, 1945, announcing Japan’s surrender. Yesterday the Imperial Household Agency released the digital version of the original sound ahead of the 70th anniversary of the speech and the war’s end. In it, the emperor’s voice appears clearer, slightly higher and more intense, but Japanese today would still have trouble understanding the arcane language used by Hirohito.

“The language was extremely difficult,” Tomie Kondo, 92, said, who listened to the 1945 broadcast in a monitoring room at NHK public broadcaster, where she worked as a newscaster.

“It’s well written if you read it, but I’m afraid not many people understood what he said,” she said. Poor reception and sound quality of the radio made it even worse. “I heard some people even thought they were supposed to fight even more,” she said. “I think the speech would be incomprehensible to young people today.”

Many Japanese know the part of the speech when Hirohito refers to his resolve for peace by “enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable,” a phrase repeatedly used in news and dramas about the war.

When people heard that part 70 years ago, they understood the situation, Kondo said, but the rest is little known, largely because the text Hirohito read was deliberately written in arcane language making him sound authoritative and convincing as he sought people’s understanding about Japan’s surrender.


Amid growing concern among many Japanese over nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to expand Japan’s military role, the current emperor, Akihito, is increasingly seen as liberal and pacifist and the effort by his father, Hirohito, to end the war has captured national attention.

Speaking in unique intonation that drops at the end of sentences, Hirohito opens his 1945 address with Japan’s decision to accept the condition of surrender. He also expresses “the deepest sense of regret” to Asian countries that cooperated with Japan to gain “emancipation” from Western colonization.

Hirohito also laments devastation caused by “a new and most cruel bomb” dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and asks everyone to stay calm while helping to reconstruct the country.

Its significance is that Hirohito, who at the time was considered a living deity, made the address, Tokyo’s Nihon University historian Takahisa Furukawa said.

“What’s most important is the emperor reached out to the people to tell them that they had to surrender and end the war,” he said. “The speech is a reminder of what it took to end the wrong war.”

On the eve of the announcement, Hirohito met with top government officials to approve Japan’s surrender inside a bunker dug at the palace compound.

Amid fear of violent protest by army officials refusing to end the war, the recording of Hirohito’s announcement was made secretly. NHK technicians were quietly called in for the recording. At almost midnight, Hirohito appeared in his formal military uniform and read the statement into the microphone, twice.

A group of young army officers stormed into the palace in a failed attempt to steal the records and block the surrender speech, but palace officials desperately protected the records, which were safely delivered to NHK for radio transmission the next day.

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