The Emperor’s surrender broadcast
The Emperor’s speech, announcing Japan’s surrender, was recorded the evening before it was broadcast. The text was just over 800 characters in length, and was painstakingly copied out by scribes, one of whom erred by omitting a phrase that had to be inserted into the margin because re-copying would have taken too much time.
The language of the speech was formal, as was befitting the Emperor, but consequently not the everyday Japanese that was familiar to the populace. Moreover, the choice of words was vague: the word ‘surrender’ does not appear. Rather, the Emperor informed his subjects that Japan must ‘pave the way for a grand peace … by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable.’
The broadcast was made at noon on August 15, and the public had been told in advance to listen to it. There was much anticipation about what the Emperor would say, and much concern because it was the first time the Japanese public would ever hear his voice. The unprecedented nature of the broadcast indicated that whatever was to be said would be of utmost importance. However, the vagueness and formality of the language, combined with the relatively poor sound quality of the broadcast, left many listeners confused about the speech’s import.
Even with clarification, the reality that Japan had surrendered in a war that it had fought for years with total determination seemed impossible to many Japanese. It took some people hours, some days, to reconcile themselves to their situation. In addition, many feared retribution under the American Occupation and wondered about the future role of the Emperor and the structure of the Japanese government. These emotions were mixed with relief at the end of hostilities and the promise of reconstruction.