It took 75 years for a disgraced family in Japan to finally find peace.
Last month, the remains of Hideki Tojo, the man who served as Japan’s prime minister for most of World War II, was approximately located. The discovery was published by a Japanese professor, who found the information in declassified U.S. military documents.
“If his remains were at least scattered in Japanese territorial waters … I think he was still somewhat fortunate,” Tojo’s great-grandson, Hidetoshi, told the Associated Press.
“I want to invite my friends and lay flowers to pay tribute to him.”
Trained to Fight
Born in Kōjimachi, Tokyo, on Dec. 30, 1884, Tojo was the third son of a lieutenant general in the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). As a child raised in the Meiji era — whose education system incorporated military training — Tojo was taught that war was the most beautiful thing in the world, according to Courtney Browne, who wrote his biography “Tojo: The Last Banzai.”
Young Tojo was said to be known for his stubbornness, lack of humor and combative behavior, which landed him in frequent fights with peers. But while he was mediocre at school, he compensated through hard work and resilience.
“I am just an ordinary man possessing no shining talents. Anything I have achieved I owe to my capacity for hard work and never giving up,” he once said.
Unsurprisingly, Tojo had a long path toward becoming the Empire of Japan’s prime minister. Upon graduating from the Japanese Military Academy in 1905, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry of the IJA.
Tojo steadily rose through the ranks and became the IJA’s major general in 1934. It was during his early career when he came to the U.S. — his one and only visit — and found Americans as materialistic people who devoted their lives to money and hedonistic pursuits.
In 1924, Tojo found himself offended over the Immigration Control Act, which banned all Asian immigration to the U.S. Lawmakers reportedly justified the legislation as necessary because Asians worked harder than whites.
“It [the Immigration Control Act] shows how the strong will always put their own interests first. Japan, too, has to be strong to survive in the world,” Tojo said.
Leading an Army
In 1941, Emperor Hirohito appointed Tojo as prime minister on the advice of Kōichi Kido, his leading political advisor. Kido, a prominent “reform bureaucrat,” served as Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal.
Following Tojo’s appointment, Prince Takamatsu wrote in his diary that, “We have finally committed to war and now must do all we can to launch it powerfully,” according to historian Herbert P. Bix, who wrote the Pulitzer-winning biography “Hirohito and The Making of Modern Japan.” In his first speech as prime minister, Tojo called for “world peace” but stated Japan’s determination to establish the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” (GEACPS) — a concept aimed to unite all Asian nations together, free from the rule of Western powers.
The GEACPS drew appeal for its pan-Asian ideals, but it sought the advancement of Japan and asserted Japanese superiority over other Asians in practice, American historian John W. Dower wrote in his book “War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.” Japan would later use the concept to justify its actions in the war.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan, under Tojo’s command, attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, then a U.S. territory. The move sought to isolate U.S. forces stationed in the Philippines — one of the most contested regions in the Pacific theater — and to reduce overall American naval power.
The surprise assault prompted the U.S., which was neutral at the time, to officially enter World War II. Shortly after the attack, Tojo also announced Japan was at war with the U.S., the British Empire and the Netherlands, according to historian John W. Dower, who wrote the book “Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II.”
As Japan made strides during the war, Tojo approved several “non-negotiable” demands to be presented to Allied forces, according to historian Gerhard L. Weinberg, who wrote the book “A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II.” These demands sought Japan to control: (1) the British Crown colonies of India and Honduras, and the British dominions of Australia, Australian New Guinea, Ceylon, New Zealand, British Columbia and the Yukon Territory; (2) Washington state and the American territories of Alaska and Hawaii; and (3) most of Latin America, including Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama and the rest of the West Indies.
‘Returned to Nature’
Tojo, who accepted full responsibility for his actions, attempted but failed to commit suicide on Sept. 11, 1945, about a month after Japan’s official surrender. He was sentenced to death on Nov. 12, 1948, and executed by hanging on Dec. 23 of the same year in Tokyo.
While the fallen leader accepted responsibility, earlier excerpts from his diary showed he resisted surrender even after the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He accused surrender proponents of “being scared of enemy threats and easily throwing their hands up.”
Hiroaki Takazawa, the Nihon University professor who released the approximate whereabouts of Tojo’s remains, came across the declassified documents at the U.S. National Archives in Maryland in 2018. He spent the next years verifying details and evaluating the importance of his discovery.
After the execution, the remains of Tojo, along with six other war criminals, were cremated and transported to a nearby airstrip. An Eighth Army liaison plane then scattered the ashes at sea.
“We proceeded to a point approximately 30 miles over the Pacific Ocean east of Yokohama where I personally scattered the cremated remains over a wide area,” U.S. Army Maj. Luther Frierson said in one of the newly disclosed documents, which carried a “secret” stamp. The official also noted that “special precaution was taken to preclude overlooking even the smallest particles of remains.”
Hidetoshi, Tojo’s great-grandson, said that the revelation put his family’s mystery to rest. He always thought that his ancestor had been buried somewhere in Ikebukuro — now a commercial district in northwestern Tokyo — though he also heard rumors of his ashes being scattered at sea.
“My great-grandfather said that history will always land in the right place,” Hidetoshi told The New York Times, convinced that the taboo against his ancestor has changed over the years. “Now finally, after 75 years, I feel all right speaking my Tojo name aloud.”
Hidetoshi is also glad to know that his great-grandfather was “returned to nature.” With most details of his ancestor’s life sealed from the public, he hopes to see “further revelations about the unknown facts of the past.”
Featured Images via U.S. Library of Congress (left) and the Cabinet Printing Bureau of the Empire of Japan (right)