General’s heir fights for his memory

The granddaughter of an infamous Japanese general, hanged at the end of the second world war, is calling for people to reassess their image of him.

Yuko Tojo says her grandfather has been misjudged
Yuko Tojo says her grandfather has been misjudged

Yuko Tojo, who works for a project recovering the remains of Japanese soldiers killed in action, recalls the general as a gentle man who stood up for Japan and protected the emperor Hirohito. This view is in stark contrast to the common image of a man demonised as the perpetrator of the Pearl Harbour attack.


Her position comes amid increasing tensions between China and Japan over Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s attendance at the Yasukuni shrine and over what is seen as renewed Japanese imperialism.  


Although recollections of her grandfather may have faded in the 60 years since the end of the war, Tojo says he deserves to be remembered fondly and with respect. It is a view that is gathering support.


Tojo says her grandfather, General Hideki Tojo, has become unfairly associated with war crimes trials that, she says, were simply victors’ justice. She says he is vilified as the prime minister who authorised the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, as well as Japan‘s subsequent invasions and occupations of large parts of Asia.




“The tribunals after the war went against international law because it is clear that any independent country has the right to defend itself through military means,” says Yuko Tojo, 66, who is married but retains the family name.


The Chinese have held a series ofdemonstrations against Japan

The Chinese have held a series of
demonstrations against Japan

“It was a war of self-defence,” she says. “Japan was being held back by the ABCD line of America, Britain, China and the Dutch, who had together imposed an economic embargo, so there was no choice.


“The country felt threatened. General Douglas MacArthur admitted as much in May 1951, when he said Japan was defending itself.


“Now it is really only the Chinese who continue to bring up the war,” she says.


“China has made a lot of noise and the 60th anniversary of the end of the war is a turning point in a person’s life and a nation’s existence.


“People are now watching Prime Minister Koizumi to see whether he will visit Yasukuni Shrine and I think it’s time for me to speak up because I am a part of this.”


Keep quiet


Tojo is breaking a six-decade silence that General Tojo requested of his family shortly before he was executed in December 1948.


He had been found guilty of war crimes – including waging wars of aggression and permitting inhumane treatment of prisoners of war – by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and insisted on shouldering the nation’s blame.


“My grandfather said the responsibility rested entirely with him,” she said. “The devastation of the cities and the problems of the people were down to him, and the emperor bore no responsibility at all.”


And while she accepts that it was inevitable he would be sentenced to hang, as the leader of a defeated Japan, she said that by accepting his fate he was doing what was best for the country.


“He did the only thing that was possible in that situation; the war-time leaders did not want the emperor to be held accountable and were happy to sacrifice themselves to achieve that.”




Tojo has a portrait of her grandfather, in his military uniform, on the wall of The Environment Solution Institute, a non-profit organisation that recovers the remains of Japanese soldiers killed in battle.


Volunteers from the organisation are planning to return to the Pacific island of Peleliu later this year to excavate a trench where it is believed 10 soldiers and their effects were buried after one of the fiercest battles of the war. An estimated 15,000 men died during the American invasion of September 1944, and Tojo believes it is her duty to repatriate as many of the Japanese remains as possible.


“In the same way as the Americans are still searching for their casualties from the war, we feel we should do everything we can to return these men to Japan,” she says.


Any bones that are discovered will be cremated and taken back to Japan, where they will be interred at Tokyo‘s Chidorigafuji war memorial.


“You find bodies that are still wearing their helmets, their belts and glasses”

Yuko Tojo

“You find bodies that are still wearing their helmets, their belts and glasses,” she said. “They still have hand grenades attached to their belts, so we have to go with explosives experts to make sure that none of our own team are injured, and even though it can take a long time, it is important that we do this work.


“This is really something that the government should be doing, but they haven’t been to Peleliu for more than 15 years,” she says. “These men are their responsibility, but they are lazy.


“We give out development aid all over the world, but we won’t take care of our own. It’s a disgrace. They have no respect for any of the men who died for Japan during the war.”


An estimated 7000 Japanese soldiers are still unaccounted for on the island, and Tojo believes it will take at least another five years to recover the majority, including sailors whose ships were sunk offshore. And when that task is completed, there are plenty of other islands across the Pacific where Japan‘s soldiers are waiting to be found.




Her grandfather would have approved of her work, she believes.


“He was an extremely gentle and caring man, especially when it came to people who had little or no power, like the maids and drivers that we had,” she says.


“He had a real empathy with them and always made sure they were included in our family photographs because he considered them part of the family.


“I have very few memories of him during the war,” says Tojo, who was born in 1939.


“Although I do remember trying to stay awake to see him one evening, and because I had ice cream, but after he was arrested I never saw him again.”


Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is criticised for visiting the shrine

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi 
is criticised for visiting the shrine

The only memorial to a man who resigned after the loss of Saipan in July 1944, but recommended in April the following year that Japan continue to fight to the end, is at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine. And the presence of General Tojo and 13 other Class-A war criminals among the 2.5 million war dead is what raises hackles in China, South Korea and other countries whose populations were subjugated in the early decades of the past century.


“I go to Yasukuni several times a year, not just to pray for the soul of my grandfather, but also for all the other people who died,” says Tojo.


“I pray for the children who were killed in the bombings, for the nurses and the civilians. I go to apologise to all the people who were victims and for the problems concerning the shrine that continue to flare up today.


“There are a lot of misunderstandings about Yasukuni, but the issue is purely a domestic one and should not be turned into a matter involving other countries,” she says, adding that Koizumi is duty-bound to visit the Shinto shrine, whatever Beijing or Seoul might say.


“When Mr Koizumi became prime minister, he took a vow to pay his respects at Yasukuni,” she says. “He must honour that vow, and I believe that he will. I think he will visit the shrine in either July or October, when it holds special ceremonies, and I actually think that he should go more than once this year because it is the anniversary of the end of the war.”


She is also dismissive of the objections such visits will inevitably attract.


“It is just a very small portion of China that protests at these visits,” she says. “If you asked most people there what Yasukuni was, they would not know, but it is sensationalised by the media.




“Japan has given huge amounts of aid to China, but their leaders don’t tell the people that,” she says. “Their bridges, roads, schools, ports and buildings are built with Japanese aid, which has freed up money for their nuclear and space programmes. If Chinese people knew that, they would not be rioting against Japan.


Tojo says Chinese leaders are not giving people the full picture

Tojo says Chinese leaders are
not giving people the full picture

“The Chinese government should tell the people the truth, but it won’t because that’s the kind of country it is; Beijing doesn’t want to admit that other people are helping it out.”


And while she fears there may be confrontations between the left and right around Yasukuni Shrine on 15 August, the day old soldiers and relatives of the dead gather to pay their respects, she remains determined to go.


“Of course I will go, although I won’t be able to announce who I am as I could become a target,” she says. “I believe that if my grandfather could talk to me from the afterlife, he would say that his greatest grief is that his presence at Yasukuni is stopping the emperor from visiting the shrine.


“He would feel sad that he is standing in the emperor’s way.”

Source: Al Jazeera

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