Skip to content

22nd August, 1945

Today I went walking by the imperial palace. It was almost evening and one week after the promulgation of the rescript on peace, but there were still small groups of Japanese going to pay homage to the God-Emperor. Some came in procession, with the violet and gold banner of their neighborhood association carried before them. Others came singly or in pairs, office girls, a man in formal dress, a tired housewife lugging a sack full of potatoes. They went up the broad avenue from Tokyo station, past the first breached walls reflected in the quiet green moats, on to the intersecting driveway on the edge of the grove of stunted pine. Wooden fences and barbed-wire barricades had been put up here and solitary sentries, bayonetted rifles gleaming in the crook of their elbows, patrolling impassively at great intervals. But the people were calm and submissive. They bowed from the waist and held this pose of reverence for a minute of silent prayer or they prostrated themselves on the wet green grass. Their faces gleamed with a curious tenderness for the emperor who lived beyond those high austere and infinitely peaceful battlements, the emperor to whom they owed and in whom they had their being. He was an unfortunate but good sovereign; to save them and the world, they fondly believed, he now “endured the unendurable, suffered what is insufferable.” A dictator like Hitler might choose to plunge his nation with him into suicide; a national dynast was conscious of nobler obligations to that “line unbroken for ages eternal” that incarnated the life of his race and state. Perhaps as they lay there, their foreheads on the cool of evening already rising from the ground, they thought of other “good” emperors, fathers of their people. Of Kotoku, who placed a petition-box at the gates of his court and a little bell to be rung if the prayer was not answered by morning. Of Daigo, who took off his wadded robe one winter night to share his people’s cold. Of Nintoku who remitted taxes and lived in a leaking palace for three years because once, ascending to his tower, he saw that no smoke rose from the hearths of his subjects. And perhaps those prostrate good and loyal subjects thought also of themselves, whose fate and fortune were embodied in the Tenno, like them shamed, defeated, homeless. Then, with a sigh, they rose and walked rapidly away.