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He Still Feels Suffering of WWII, Emperor Says : Japan: But Akihito evades questions on responsibility of his father, Hirohito, for 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

June 04, 1994|SAM JAMESON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TOKYO — Emperor Akihito evaded questions Friday about the "war responsibility" of his father, the late Emperor Hirohito, and whether Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was justified.

But in a scripted news conference, he said that an awareness of "the lives that were lost, the wounds that were inflicted, the feelings of those who suffered anguish never disappears from my heart, however many years and months pass."

The statement referred to the war that Japan began in China in 1931, expanded into World War II with its attack on Pearl Harbor and ended, as the emperor put it, "many years and months ago" in 1945.

He repeated the same thought in partial reply to both of the questions that remain sensitive in a country still divided over whether its old record of colonialism and invasion constitute aggression or not. Just last month, a Cabinet minister was ousted for disclaiming World War II aggression.

Pearl Harbor, originally included in an itinerary for a 17-day imperial tour of 11 U.S. cities that will begin next Friday, was dropped from the schedule because of fears of stirring political controversy in Japan.

As to whether the surprise attack was justified "considering the situation in 1941," the emperor said that "understanding correctly historical facts is very important. But in my position, I would like to refrain from commenting on this kind of problem."

His father, Emperor Hirohito, he added, "treated peace more importantly than anything" but "acted by obeying the constitution. I imagine he endured many hardships."

Hirohito declared in 1971 that he had always acted as "a constitutional monarch," obeying decisions of the country's political leaders.

It was in the name of Hirohito, who died in 1989 after a reign of 62 years, that Japan declared war on the United States shortly after its bombers raided Pearl Harbor. And it was in his name that Japan agreed to "bear the unbearable" in surrender four years later.

Akihito, who was 8 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked, will lay wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington and at the Punch Bowl Cemetery in Honolulu. He will visit Los Angeles on June 20-22.

The emperor, 60, said his wife, who collapsed on her 59th birthday Oct. 20 and lost the ability to speak, has not recovered completely.

"Her voice is still very weak and she gets rather tired when speaking," he said. "I am worried about her because of the busy schedule in the United States and the burden it will impose upon her."

He indicated that she had remained stricken until about a month ago.

Empress Michiko said that "at first, it was all I could do just to accept the fact of losing the ability to speak. My uneasiness and sadness became bigger day by day until I almost lost hope for recovery.

"Pondering on the meaning of suffering, I realized that I had always wished to act gently, but my heart, weary and sad at the time I became ill, had become hard and brittle, for which I now blame myself," she added in apology to "the many people who treated me warmly."

Her husband and her daughter, Sayako, helped "immensely" by continuing daily life with her as if nothing had happened, she said. She also said she underwent training to recover the ability to conceive thoughts, pronounce words and speak.

"I cannot say I have absolutely no unease in making this trip with its long schedule," Michiko confessed in a voice so soft it often became inaudible. "But I will do my best to take care of myself and perform my duties."

Like almost all of the imperial couple's appearances, the news conference was scripted from start to finish. Reporters read questions submitted earlier, and though neither Akihito nor Michiko held any notes, both gave what appeared to be memorized answers.

One reply did break the tone of studied tact. Asked by American reporters what concerns she has about her own country, Michiko appeared to criticize Japan for having only a passive desire for peace, for indulging in decadence and for losing its traditional value of courtesy.

"Peace is not merely the passive condition of not being at war but rather an earnest desire and a strong will to continue the state of peace. . . . Wisdom and effort are necessary to realize this," she said, adding: "It would be a source of joy if the thinking and the culture of the people should be directed not toward decadence but to a higher level of strength and refinement and if we Japanese could always preserve a sense of modesty, respecting other people and other nations."

Michiko urged the Japanese people to "build up a national character which respects a code of courtesy, whether among ourselves or toward people of other nations."

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