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In Only Exclusive Interview, Emperor Spoke of Concern for the Japanese People

January 7, 1989

TOKYO (AP) _ Throughout his lifetime, Emperor Hirohito reigned behind the wide moats and imposing stone walls of the vast Imperial Palace grounds in central Tokyo. During his 62-year reign, only once did an exclusive interview with him appear in print.

The Imperial Household Agency zealously protects the imperial family from intrusions, but granted the unique interview to a persistent American journalist shortly before Hirohito’s 1975 visit to the United States.

Bernard Krisher, Tokyo bureau chief for Newsweek Magazine from 1968 to 1980, kept his campaign secret from competitors.

″Ever since I came here I waited for an occasion to persuade the Imperial Household Agency to grant me an interview,″ Krisher, now chief editor of Focus, a Japanese-language magazine, told The Associated Press.

For six months after the announcement of Hirohito’s trip, Krisher spent about half his time meeting with lower- and middle-level officials. ″I knew they couldn’t help me, but I asked them not to oppose or discuss my campaign,″ Krisher said.

Finally persuaded that an interview before the emperor’s U.S. visit would be worthwhile, Imperial Household Agency officials relented. Krisher was permitted to meet the monarch at the Imperial Palace for 32 minutes. Although he was asked to submit questions in advance, Krisher was allowed to ask other questions.

The emperor described his overseas tours - to Europe in 1921 and with Empress Nagako again in 1971 - as the happiest times of his life. ″My happest expectation is looking forward to our trip to the United States,″ Hirohito told Krisher.

″As to my view of Americans, they seem to have very clear-cut views; they are always straightforward, pragmatic and realistic; I believe they are a people who are very easy to be friends with,″ the emperor said.

During his two-week visit with the empress, Hirohito met government officials and farmers and dined with Hollywood stars. He had said the visit was the fulfillment of a 50-year-old dream.

Although Hirohito admitted to a desire ″deep in my heart″ to become a common man and to be closer to his people, he also expressed his belief that ″most Japanese still have a respect for the imperial family.″

The imperial tradition has survived for centuries in Japan, he said, ″because, throughout history, the imperial family has always given first thought to the welfare of the people.″

The next emperor, Hirohito’s son Crown Prince Akihito, ″may have his own ideas, but it has always been the tradition of the imperial family to act for the benefit of the people so I am also looking forward to such an attitude on his part as well,″ he said.

The emperor hesitated to name influential people in his life, but did speak of his grandfather the Emperor Meiji. During the Meiji era (1868 to 1912), Hirohito’s grandfather played an important role in introducing public education and in modernizing his mostly agricultural nation.

″I always have kept his deeds in my mind,″ Hirohito said.

The emperor said the saddest time of his life was during World War II. Unable to watch his people suffer further after the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hirohito accepted Allied surrender terms in August 1945, urging his nation to ″bear the unbearable.″

″At the time of the termination of the war, I made the decision on my own. That is because the Prime Minister failed to obtain agreement in the Cabinet and asked my opinion. So, I stated my opinion and then made the decision according to my opinion,″ Hirohito told Krisher.

The emperor has never made a direct public admission that he opposed the war, maintaining that the constitution would not permit him to do so.

″Now at the time of the outbreak of the war and also before the war, when the Cabinet made decisions, I could not override their decisions,″ he said.

Krisher’s interview went to press soon after he met Hirohito. About a week later, the emperor met with a small group of foreign reporters, who had been outraged when the exclusive Newsweek article appeared. ″Nothing could top that interview,″ Krisher said.

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