Imperial Rescript ending war

What Hirohito really said in his acceptance speech

Translated by William Wetherall

First posted August 1995
Last updated 6 August 2008


Significance of war-ending rescript
Japanese text    Japanese script, Straight romanization, Modified romanization
Three English versions    Structural translation, Nippon Times version, Common version
Translation problems    Form for its own sake, Confusion of viewpoint, Simplification, Loss of detail, Embellishment
Glossary    Entities, People, Pronouns, Ancestors, Numbers, Other words and phrases


History of this page

A simplified version of my structural translation of the 14 August 1945 rescript was first published in August 1995 by Adam Fulford, in his feature on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia and the Pacific, posted at http://shrine.cyber.ad.jp/~message, which no longer exists.

Fulford's feature included the official and other English versions, and graphic images of the original rescript at a time when such images were not easily obtainable. High resolution images are today readily viewable at the National Diet Library website (see below). Most other posted images (including those on Wikipedia) are lower resolution croppings of the NDL images.

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14 August 1945 imperial rescript ending war

Importance of rescript

The imperial rescript issued by Hirohito on 14 August 1945 is usually called IíƒmÙ‘ (Shūsen no shōsho) or "Imperial rescript ending the war".

Hirohito's war-ending rescript is one of the most important documents to come out of the Greater East Asia and Pacific War, in the sense that it voices the ideological foundation for the continuing policy of the present non-imperial government of Japan to deny that the "purposes" of its imperial predecessary in East Asia were territorial.

The rescript is also evidence that Hirohito, representing the government and the military of the Empire of Japan, used the droppings of the "cruel bomb" as his main pretext for ordering his Subjects to accept the Potsdam [Joint] Proclamation -- which, issued on 26 July 1945, threatened "prompt and utter destruction" should the Empire of Japan not "proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces".

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Japanese text of war-ending rescript

The following table shows the Japanese script of the text of Hirohito's war-ending rescript, and two romanized versions for readers interested in linguistics. Other readers may wish to jump to the translation section.

14 August 1945 imperial transcript
ending war in Asia and the Pacific

’½EEE䢃j’‰—ǃiƒ‹Ž¢b–¯ƒjƒN
Chin . . . koko ni chuuryou naru nanji shinmin ni tsuku
I . . . hereby proclaim to ye subjects loyal and good

Japanese script

The Japanese script began as a download from the website of "The World and Japan" Database Project (ƒf[ƒ^ƒx[ƒXu¢ŠE‚Æ“ú–{v Deetabeesu "Sekai to Nihon"), maintained by the Tanaka Akihiko Research Group at the Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo (“Œ‹ž‘åŠw“Œ—m•¶‰»Œ¤‹†ŠA“c’†–¾•FŒ¤‹†Žº Tōkyō Daigaku Tōyō Bunka Kenkyūjo, Tanaka Akihiko Kenkyūshitsu).

I restored the character Ž [sho] in two places where the database version has marked it with an ellipsis explained as ‚Ü‚¾‚ê‚É‹¤‚̃n‚Ì•”•ª‚ðll [madare ni tomo no ha no bubun o hitohito] while vetting the script against images of the rescript in the National Diet Library digital exhibition of primary documents related to “ú–{Œ›–@‚Ì’a¶ (Birth of the Constitution of Japan).

The main body of the rescript is also posted on the website of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology -- and, in varying degrees of fidelity, on numerous other websites.

Romanized texts

The following romanized versions are based on (1) inspections of facsimiles of the original calligraphic and official printed texts, a popular printing that assigns readings to some of the kanji, and another popular printing that assigns voicing to the katakana, and (2) consultations with native readers, some of whom received a pre-1945 education and were able to read the original calligraphy text with little difficulty. In the few instances of disagreement over a reading, I have used my own judgment.

Formatting and orthography

The original calligraphic and official printed texts are a mixture of kanji and katakana. There are no punctuation marks and paragraphs are not indented. No voicing marks are shown with katakana (e.g., "bekarazaru" is written "hekarasaru").

Surface romanization

The surface romanization shows the text the way it is written. Hence older kana orthography is represented as written. Voicing is shown only for words written in kanji.

Modified romanization

The modified romanization shows how the text would probably be punctuated today, and how the katakana would be rendered and voiced according to present-day orthography.

Topic and object markers

The topic and object markers, shown as "ha" and "wo" in the surface romanization, have been written "wa" and "o" in the modified romanization.

Moraic vowels

The moraic vowels are shown in-line (-uu, -ou) as they are represented in Japanese script, rather than with macrons (-ū, -ō).

Capitalization

I have capitalized romanized terms that are capitalized in the structural translation -- meaning words that begin sentences, proper and proper-like nouns, and nominative first person pronouns.

Hyphenization

I have marked some suffixes and prefixes with hypens.

Japanese script Surface romanization Modified romanization

’½[ƒN¢ŠEƒm‘吨ƒg’éš ƒmŒ»óƒgƒjŠÓƒ~”ñíƒm‘[’uƒ’ˆÈƒeŽž‹Çƒ’ŽûEƒZƒ€ƒg—~ƒV䢃j’‰—ǃiƒ‹Ž¢b–¯ƒjƒN

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chin fukaku sekai no taisei to teikoku no genjou to ni kangami hijou no sochi wo motte jikyoku wo shuushuu semu to hosshi koko ni chuuryou naru nanji shinmin ni tsuku

chin ha teikoku seifu wo shite bei-ei-shi-so shikoku ni tai shi sono kyoudou sengen wo judaku suru mune tsuukoku seshimetari

somosomo teikoku shinmin no kounei wo hakari banpou kyouei no raku wo tomo ni suru ha kouso kousou no ihan ni shite chin no kenken okasaru tokoro saki ni bei-ei nikoku ni sensen seru yuen mo mata masa ni teikoku no jison to toua no antei to wo shoki suru ni ite takoku no shuken wo hai shi ryoudo wo okasu ka gotoki ha motoyori chin ka kokorozashi ni arasu shikaru ni kousen sude ni shisai wo kemi shi chin ka rikukai-shouhei no yuusen chin ka hyakuryou-yuushi no reisei chin ka ichioku-shuusho no houkou onoono saizen wo tsukuseru ni kakaharasu senkyoku kanarasushimo kouten sesu sekai no taisei mata ware ni ri arasu shika nominarazu teki ha arata ni zangyaku naru bakudan wo shiyou shite shikiri ni muko wo sasshou shi sangai no oyofu tokoro makoto ni hakaru hekarasaru ni itaru shikamo nao kousen wo keizoku semu ka tsui ni wa ka minzoku no metsubou wo shourai suru nominarasu hiite jinrui no bunmei wo mo hakyaku suheshi kaku no gotokumuha chin nani wo motte ka okuchou no sekishi wo ho shi kouso- kousou no shinrei ni sha semu ya kore chin ka teikoku seifu wo shite kyoudou sengen ni ou seshimuru ni itareru yuen nari

chin ha teikoku to tomo ni shuushi toua no kaihou ni kyouryoku seru sho-meihou ni tai shi ikan no i wo hyou sesaru wo esu teikoku shinmin ni shite senjin ni shi shi shokuiki ni jun shi himei ni taoretaru mono oyobi sono izoku ni omoi wo itaseha gonai tame ni saku katsu senshou wo ohi saika wo koumuri kagyou wo ushinahitaru mono no kousei ni itarite ha chin no fukaku shinnen suru tokoro nari omofu ni kongo teikoku no uku heki kunan ha motoyori jinjou ni arasu nanji shinmin no chuujou mo chin yoku kore wo shiru shikaretomo chin ha jiun no omomuku tokoro tahegataki wo tahe shinohigataki wo shinohi motte bansei no tame ni taihei wo hirakamu to hossu

chin ha koko ni kokutai wo goji shiete chuuryou naru nanji shinmin no sekisei ni shinki shi tsune ni nanji shinmin to tomo ni ari moshi sore jou no geki suru tokoro midari ni jitan wo shigekushi aruiha douhou haisei tagai ni jikyoku wo midari tame ni daidou wo ayamari shingi wo sekai ni ushinafu ka gotoki ha chin mottomo kore wo imashimu yoroshiku kyokoku-ikka-shison ai tsutahe kataku shinshuu no fumetsu wo shin shi nin omoku shite michi tooki wo omohi souryoku wo shourai no kensetsu ni katamuke dougi wo atsukushi shisou wo katakushi chikaite kokutai no seika wo hatsuyou shi sekai no shin'un ni okuresaramu koto wo ki su heshi nanji shinmin sore yoku chin ka i wo tai seyo

hirohito [signature] tenno gyoji [seal]

shouwa nijuunen hachigatsu juuyouka

naikaku souri daijin danshaku suzuki kantarou [signature]

[Titles and signatures of 15 other cabinet ministers]

Chin fukaku sekai no taisei to Teikoku no genjou to ni kangami, hijou no sochi o motte, jikyoku o shuushuu semu to hosshi, koko ni chuuryou naru nanji Shinmin ni tsugu.

Chin wa, Teikoku Seifu o shite, BeiEiShiSo shikoku ni tai shi, sono Kyoudou Sengen o judaku suru mune, tsuukoku seshimetari.

Somosomo Teikoku Shinmin no kounei o hakari, banpou kyouei no raku o tomo ni suru wa Kouso Kusou no ihan ni shite, Chin no kenken okazaru tokoro. Saki ni BeiEi niKoku ni sensen seru yuen mo, mata masa ni Teikoku no jison to Toua no antei to o shoki suru ni ide, taKoku no shuken o hai shi ryoudo o okasu ga gotoki wa, motoyori chin ga kokorozashi ni arazu. Shikaru ni, kousen sude ni shisai o kemi shi, chin ga rikukai shouhei no yuusen, chin ga hyakuryou yuushi no reisei, chin ga ichioku shuusho no houkou, onoono saizen o tsukuseru ni kakawarazu, senkyoku kanarazushimo kouten sezu. Sekai no taisei, mata ware ni ri arazu. Shika nominarazu, teki wa arata ni zangyaku naru bakudan o shiyou shite, shikiri ni muko o sasshou shi, sangai no oyobu tokoro, makoto ni hakaru bekarazaru ni itaru. Shikamo nao, kousen o keizoku semu ka. Tsui ni wa ga minzoku no metsubou o shourai suru nominarazu, hiite jinrui no bunmei o mo hakyaku subeshi. Kaku no gotokumuba, Chin, nani o motte ka okuchou no sekishi o ho shi, Kouso Kousou no shinrei ni sha semu ya. Kore, chin ga Teikoku Seifu o shite, Kyoudou Sengen ni ou seshimuru ni itareru yuen nari.

Chin wa Teikoku to tomo ni, shuushi, Toua no kaihou ni kyouryoku seru Shomeihou ni tai shi, ikan no i o hyou sezaru o ezu. Teikoku Shinmin ni shite senjin ni shi shi, shokuiki ni jun shi, himei ni taoretaru mono, oyobi sono izoku ni omoi o itaseba, gonai tame ni saku. Katsu senshou o oi, saika o koumuri kagyou o ushinaitaru mono no kousei ni itarite wa, Chin no fukaku shinnen suru tokoro nari. Omou ni, kongo Teikoku no ukuru beki kunan wa, motoyori jinjou ni arazu. Nanji Shinmin no chuujou mo, Chin yoku kore o shiru. Shikaredomo Chin wa jiun no omomuku tokoro, taegataki o tae, shinobigataki o shinobi, motte bansei no tame ni taihei o hirakan to hossu.

Chin wa koko ni Kokutai o goji shiete, chuuryou naru nanji Shinmin no sekisei ni shinki shi, tsune ni nanji Shinmin to tomo ni ari. Moshi, sore jou no geki suru tokoro, midari ni jitan o shigekushi, aruiwa douhou haisei tagai ni jikyoku o midari, tame ni daidou o ayamari shingi o sekai ni ushinau ga gotoki wa, Chin, mottomo kore o imashimu. Yoroshiku, kyoKoku, ikka, shison, aitsutae, kataku shinshuu no fumetsu o shin ji, nin omoku shite michi tooki o omoi, souryoku o shourai no kensetsu ni katamuke, dougi o atsukushi, shisou o katakushi, chikatte Kokutai no seika o hatsuyou shi, sekai no shin'un ni okurezaramu koto o ki su beshi. Nanji Shinmin, sore yoku chin ga i o tai seyo.

Hirohito [signature] Tenno gyoji [seal]

Shouwa nijuunen hachigatsu juuyouka

Naikaku Souri Daijin Danshaku Suzuki Kantarou [signature]

[Titles and signatures of 15 other cabinet ministers]

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Three English versions of war-ending rescript

In the imperial rescript he issued on 14 August 1945, to end the war in Asia and the Pacific, Hirohito addresses the members of a huge but single extended family of which he is titular head. He also speaks to his "simple children" as the sovereign ruler of the Empire of which all were Subjects -- meaning all Japanese, which included not only members of the Yamato race but Ainu, Okinawans, Koreans, Taiwanese, and others who were regarded as nationals of the Empire of Japan.

In the rescript, Hirohito never objectifies his clan or Empire as "Japanese" or "Japan". Of the three translations shown below, only the structural translation preserves this strictly local orientation of language, in sharp contrast with the official Japanese government translation, which, among several other translations, seriously confuses viewpoint.

14 August 1945 imperial transcript
ending war in Asia and the Pacific

No specification of "China" or "Korea" entities

Structural translation

This is my own translation, intended to reflect the precise syntactic structures and semantic elements of the original text. As such it attempts to preserve the structures of the original text -- its terminology, syntax, and style. I have made every effort to represent all appearances of the same Japanese words, expressions, or phrases with the same English equivalents.

I have retained the use of archaic "ye" to reflect the letter and spirit of "nanji". However, I have rendered "Chin" and "chin ga" as simply "I" or "my".

The usage of Royal "We" and "Our" in the official Japanese government translation appears to be an embellishment that began in the 19th century with imitation of the formal styles of address of British and other European monarchs. Other features of the official translation also reflect habits of protocol and diplomatic usage that are not in accord with the linguistic details of the text.

All unbracketed grammatical subjects and objects in the English translation reflect equivalents in the original text. Subjects and objects not in the original text have been shown in brackets.

Nippon Times "official" version

This translation, attributed to the 15 August 1945 edition of Nippon Times, is a reformatted version of the text as posted on the website of "The World and Japan" Database Project (ƒf[ƒ^ƒx[ƒXu¢ŠE‚Æ“ú–{v Deetabeesu "Sekai to Nihon"), maintained by the Tanaka Akihiko Research Group at the Institute of Oriental Culture, University of Tokyo (“Œ‹ž‘åŠw“Œ—m•¶‰»Œ¤‹†ŠA“c’†–¾•FŒ¤‹†Žº Tōkyō Daigaku Tōyō Bunka Kenkyūjo, Tanaka Akihiko Kenkyūshitsu).

This translation was widely published during the years after it was issued. It appeared in the Documentary Material in the Appendix of the following yearbook, which was "Made in Occupied Japan" (Appendix, pages 270-271).

The Japan Year Book, 1946-48
Tokyo: The Foreign Affairs Association of Japan, 1949
Preface dated December 1948
xv, 614 (main text), 340 (appendix and index), foldout map of Japan, unnumbered adverts

This translation uses "We/Our" to translate the imperial personal pronoun.

Common version

The most widely circulated among several other versions -- thanks partly to Wikipedia -- is shown here. This version uses "I/my" to translate the imperial personal pronoun. It is arguably slightly more accurate than the "official" Nippon Times version, but it also loses, distorts, and mixes the metaphors of the original and otherwise destroys or misrepresents it's structural integrity.

Structural translation Nippon Times version Common version

I herein proclaim to ye Subjects who are loyal and good that, having deeply taken into consideration both the great tendencies of the world and the present circumstances of the Empire, [I] wish to control the temporal situation by means of an extraordinary measure.

I have caused the Imperial Government to communicate toward the four nations of the United States of America, Great Britain, the Republic of China, and the Soviet Union, to the effect that [the Imperial Government] accepts their Joint Proclamation.

Essentially, promoting the tranquillity of Imperial Subjects, and sharing the joys of the co-posterity of myriad countries, is the bequeathed example of the Tenno-line Founder and the Tenno-line Ancestors, and is something that I respectfully am not to put aside. The reason [the Empire] earlier declared war on the two nations of the United States of America and Great Britain, too, also arises precisely in the desire for both the self-existence of the Empire and the stability of East Asia, and something like disregarding the sovereignty or violating the territory of other nations has not at any time been my purpose. Nonetheless, the exchange of hostilities has already gone on for four years, and despite the courageous fighting of my land and sea officers and men, the assiduity of my hundreds of officials and many ministers, the service of my one-hundred-million masses, that each and all have done [their] best, the war situation has not necessarily turned favorable, and the great tendencies of the world also are not an advantage to us. Not only this, but the enemy has newly utilized a bomb that is atrocious, and it has repeatedly killed or wounded the innocent, and the extent of the devastation has become truly impossible to measure. Yet still are [we] to continue the exchange of hostilities? Not only would [to do so] ultimately invite the ruin of our race, but in turn it would destroy also the civilization of humankind. [Things] being like this, how am I to preserve [my] countless millions of simple children, and apologize to the divine spirits of the Tenno-line Founder and the Tenno-line Ancestors? This is the reason I have come to cause the Imperial Government to comply with the Joint Proclamation.

I cannot but express the sentiments of [my] regrets toward the Allied countries that together with the Empire have, start to finish, cooperated in the emancipation of East Asia. As for Imperial Subjects, when [I] give thought to those who died on fields of battle, martyred at places of work, or fell before their time, and the families [they] have left, [my] five internal [organs] on account [of them] rend. And [when it] comes to the well-being of those who have borne war injuries, or have incurred calamity and lost occupations, [this] is something I deeply agonize over. Thinking about [this], the hardships henceforth received by the Empire will not at any time be commonplace. The inner feelings of ye Imperial Subjects, too, I well know them. While this be so, I wish [ye], as [ye] face the temporal fate of the Empire, to bear what is hard to bear, endure what is hard to endure, and thus open [the way for] a great peace for myriad generations.

I, having protected and maintained the National Corpus, trust in the simple sincerity of ye Subjects who are loyal and good, and will always be with ye Subjects. Should, as emotions become aggravated, [ye] do anything like wantonly provoke incidents, or [if] ostracism [among] those of the same womb mutually disturb the temporal situation, [and there be] on account [of this] something like misconstruing the great path and losing the trust of the world, I would utterly admonish this. It is incumbent to resolve that the entire nation, one family, descendants, together go on, firmly believe in the imperishability of the divine provinces, be mindful that the responsibilities are heavy and the road is long, bend all strength to the construction of the future, be fervent in principles of the path, be resolute in constancy of purpose, and pledge to enhance the glory of the National Corpus and to not fall behind the advance of the world. Ye Subjects, ably embody my sentiments.

Hirohito [signature] Tenno seal [impression]

The 14th day of the 8th month of the 20th year of Showa [1945]

Cabinet Prime Minister Baron Suzuki Kantaro [signature]

[Titles and signatures of 15 other cabinet ministers]

To Our good and loyal subjects:

After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in Our Empire today, We have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure.

We have ordered Our Government to communicate to the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that Our Empire accepts the provisions of their Joint Declaration.

To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations as well as the security and well-being of Our subjects is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by Our Imperial Ancestors, and which We lay close to heart. Indeed, We declared war on America and Britain out of Our sincere desire to ensure Japan's self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from Our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignity of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement. But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by every one - the gallant fighting of military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of Our servants of the State and the devoted service of Our one hundred million people, the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest. Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is indeed incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should We continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization. Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects; or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.

We cannot but express the deepest sense of regret to our Allied nations who have consistently cooperated with the Empire towards the emancipation of East Asia. The thought of those officers and men as well as others who have fallen in the fields of battle, those who died at their posts of duty, or those who met with untimely death and all their bereaved families, pains Our heart night and day. The welfare of the wounded and war-sufferers, and of those who have lost their home and livelihood are the objects of Our profound solicitude. The hardships and sufferings to which Our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all ye, Our subjects. However, it is according to the dictate of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.

Having been able to safeguard and maintain the structure of the Imperial State, We are always with ye, Our good and loyal subjects, relying upon your sincerity and integrity. Beware most strictly of any outburst of emotion which may engender needless complications, or any fraternal contention and strife which may create confusion, lead ye astray and cause ye to lose the confidence of the world. Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith of the imperishableness of its divine land, and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibilities, and the long road before it. Unite your total strength to be devoted to the construction for the future. Cultivate the ways of rectitude; foster nobility of spirit; and work with resolution so as ye may enhance the innate glory of the Imperial State and keep pace with the progress of the world.

The 14th day of the 8th month of the 20th year of Showa

After deeply pondering the general trends of the world and the current conditions of our Empire, I intend to effect a conclusion to the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure.

My subjects, I have ordered the Imperial Government to inform the four Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that our Empire is willing to accept the provisions of their Joint Declaration.

The striving for peace and well-being of our imperial subjects, and the sharing of common happiness and prosperity amongst tens of thousands of nations is the duty left by our Imperial Ancestors, and I am the one who has not forgotten about this duty.

The Empire declared war against the United States and Great Britain for the desire to preserve, by ourselves, the Empire's existence in East Asia and for the region's stability. As to the infringement of other nation's sovereignty and invasion of other territorial entities, those were not my original intent.

By now, the fighting has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the gallantry of our naval and land military forces, the diligence and assiduity of hundreds of civil service officers, and the public devotion and service of one hundred million of our people, the situation on the war has not turned for the better, and the general trends of the world are not advantageous to us either.

In addition, the enemy has recently used a most cruel explosive. The frequent killing of innocents and the effect of destitution it entails are incalculable. Should we continue fighting in the war, it would cause not only the complete Annihilation of our nation, but also the destruction of the human civilization. With this in mind, how should I save billions of our subjects and their posterity, and atone ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why I ordered the Imperial Government to accept the Joint Declaration.

I, from the start, have worked with our various Allied nations towards the liberation of East Asia, and I cannot refrain from expressing my deepest sense of regret to our Allies. The thought of our Imperial subjects dying in the battlefields, sacrificing themselves in the line of duty, and those who died in vain and their relatives, pains my heart and body to the point of fragmentation.

As for the bearing of the wounds of war, the tragedies of war, and the welfare of the those who lost their families and careers, it is the objects of our profound solicitude. From today hereafter, the Empire will endure excruciating hardships. I am keenly aware of the feelings of my subjects, but in accordance to the dictates of fate, I am willing to endure the unendurable, tolerate the intolerable, for peace to last thousands of generations.

Having always protected the Imperial State in general, I rely on the loyal subject's integrity and sincerity, and I shall always be with you subjects.

If we become stimulated by sensations, and begin to engender needless complications, engage in fraternal contention and strike or create confusion, we will become astray and lose the confidence of the world. We must rally the nation, and continue from generation to generation to entrench the imperishability of this sacred state.

Aware of the heavy responsibility and the long road ahead, we must focus completely on the future's construction, follow strictly the ways of our noble morals with determination and resolution. We swear to foster and spread the glory and essence of our Imperial State, so we will not fall behind the evolution of the world. It is my hope that my subjects will understand my intentions.

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Translation problems

The official English translation of Hirohito's war-ending rescript was flawed because of lack of rigorous standards in the practice of translation. This lack of standards continues to plague official, journalistic, commercial, even academic translations today. The most salient problems with standards are discussed below, with special attention to the war-ending rescript.


Form imitated for its own sake

Translators are constrained by conventions of protocol and other linguistic traditions within the government that have nothing to do with semantic accuracy. The royal "We"/"Our" style of the British monarchy was adopted for use in Japan's official English documents, despite the fact that there is no basis for such usage in the Japanese language.

"chin" versus "ware" and "wa"

Hirohito referred to himself as "chin" (’½), a personal pronoun used only by a tenno (“Vc) in Japan. A tenno uses "chin" to refer to himself or herself as an individual in the sense of "I" and "my", and not in the sense of the collective royal "We" or "Our" familiar to people in British Commonwealth countries.

In the war-ending rescript, Hirohito referred to the mission that the Founder of the Tenno line (Jimu tenno), and to the ancestors of the tenno-line (all the other tenno, excluding himself), had passed down, and then he stated that he ("chin", i.e. "I") is not in a position to disregard this mission. Like both his grandfather Meiji tenno and his father Taisho tenno, Hirohito (aka Showa) used "ware ni" (to us) or "wa ga" (our) when referring to all Japanese, himself and all his subjects.

"tenno"

"Tenno" became "emperor" for the same reason: imitation of alien forms despite lack of foundation in native function. If the Meiji Restoration had resulted in a "kingdom" instead of an "empire", then Meiji tenno would probably have been called "King Meiji". The problem is that "tenno" is neither a "king" nor an "emperor".

There have always been officials and scholars who have thought that "tenno" should remain "tenno" in English, so that a tenno is not confused with an emperor. There were movements in the late 1930s and early 1940s to substitute "tenno" for "emperor" in English publications. Some excellent contemporary English studies of Japanese law use "Tenno" (e.g., Shinichi Fujii, The Essentials of Japanese Constitutional Law, Tokyo: Yuhikaku, 1940).

The 1943-1944 edition of the Japan Year Book called Hirohito the "Tenno of Nippon" rather than the "Emperor of Japan" among other examples of editorial Nipponization. See The Japan Year Book for more examples.

There are also movements today to use "Tenno" rather than "Emperor" as the title of the succession of heads of the "Tenno Family" whether male or female. Though today the Tenno House Law stipulates that the Tenno must be male, linguistically Tenno is genderless, and historically there have been several female Tenno.

The pre-1945 argument for corruption of "tenno" to "emperor" is at least plausible: if Japan was to be called a "teikoku" in Japanese, and if this was to be translated "empire" in English, the Japan had to have an "emperor" -- even though the Chinese equivalent -- "koutei" (c’é) -- was not to be used. Today, though, tenno advocates seem to have a rock-solid argument: how much misunderstanding of Japan is engendered because Akihito's English title creates the impression that he is an "emperor", hence Japan must be an "empire"?


Confusion of point of view

When translating domestic documents intended for foreign consumption, translators are tempted to recast the original into a document intended for foreign consumption. This often results in a change or confusion of viewpoint, usually from "subjective" to "objective", as when "waga kuni" ("our country") becomes "Japan".

In the war-ending rescript, "wa ga minzoku" (our race) becomes "our nation" in the Nippon Times version and "the Japanese nation". The latter phrase objectifies the original. Note that both versions inconsistently conflate other Japanese terms with "nation" -- so that the significance of this solitary appearance of "race" (–¯‘°) is entirely lost.


Reduction of complexity

The conflation in English of terms that are structurally differentiated in Japanese results in simplification. Inconsistent conflation results in confusion as well as simplification.

Civic "nation" or "people" versus ethnic "race"

Translators often fail to differentiate key words and consistently translate them differently. In Japanese law, "Nihon kokumin" means a "national of Japan" or "Japanese national" defined by civic nationality, not race or ethnicity. "Nihon kokumin" is also used to designate "the Japanese nation" or "the Japanese people" as a civic collectivity. "Nihon minzoku" (Japanese race), however, has no application in Japanese law.

Yet the official translations of former prime minister Nakasone Yasuhiro's speeches usually conflated his references to "Nippon kokumin" and "Nippon minzoku" as "the Japanese people" or "the people of Japan". Perceptive readers of Japanese would notice his propensity to racialize Japanese nationals, while readers of English would not be aware that Nakasone was equating "race" or "ethnic raciality" with "nationality" as civil legal status.

In a similar vein, the official translation of the war-ending rescript reduces "our race" to "the Japanese nation". In at least one place, "the Empire" becomes "Our nation". Yet "nation" also appears in expressions like "all nations" and "other nations", in which there is no context of either "race" or "empire".

Though Hirohito thought and was used imperially, he himself was not really an "Emperor", as this term has been used to describe absolute sovereigns in, say, Rome or China. Nor were the Founder and the Ancestors of Hirohito's family line "Emperors" except as a result of the importation in recent centuries of English and other metaphors for "Emperor".

Yet in the war-ending rescript, "kou" (c) -- the "[n]ou" of "ten[n]ou" (“Vc) -- is rendered "imperial", which conflates with the translation of "teikoku" ("empire") when used attributively, as in "teikoku seifu" ("imperial government"). Interestingly, the official translation ignores "teikoku" or renders it "our" in all of the instances it is used attributively in the original text; while in none of the instances where "imperial" appears in the official translation is "teikoku" found in the original.

Deletion of detail

Translators are often tempted to delete details they feel are unnecessary. Details of nuance have already been considered in the examples of "minzoku" and "teikoku". But whole words and lines can be cut for unknown reasons. In both instances where "founder" appears in the original text, it is absorbed into "ancestors", with the result that the usual concern in such rescripts with the Founder of the Tenno line is completely lost in translation.

Embellishment

Translators are inclined to add details, even explanations, that they feel are needed to make the original text clear to a "foreign" reader. The official and common translations of "kokutai" are examples embellishment intended to explain.

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Glossary

In the following table are grouped a number of words and phrases that are useful to illustrate some of the problems in how the war-ending rescript (and other Japanese rescripts and documents) are translated.

Whereas in the romanized versions of the rescript I showed moraic vowels (-uu, -ou) in-line as they are represented in Japanese, here I am showing them with macrons (-ū, -ō).

Glossary of selected expressions in imperial rescripts
Entities
’éš  (’鍑) teikoku empire (imperial nation)
’éš  (’鍑)EEE teikoku . . . imperial (imperial national) . . .
EEEš  (‘) . . . koku . . . nation
š  (‘)EEE koku . . . national . . .
äݖM (–œ–M) manpō myriad countries (nations), many (numerous, countless) countries
”–¿–M sho-meihō allied countries (nations)
"sho" (”) denotes plurality, diversity, all.
–¯‘° minzoku race, ethnic nation
š é“ (‘‘Ì) kokutai national corpus (body); national body-politic (polity, essence)
People
b–¯ shinmin subjects (loyal people)
š –¯ (‘–¯) kokumin nationals, people (of the nation)
ÔŽq sekishi simple children (affectionate for "subjects")
OŽ shūsho masses
“¯–E douhō those of the same womb, ethnoracial siblings
Pronouns
’½ chin I
’½ƒJEEE chin ga . . . my . . . [Subjects, Imperial Government]
‰äƒjEEE ware ni . . . . . . to (for) us
‰äƒJEEE wa ga (waga) . . . our . . . [race]
Ž¢ nanji ye; you [equal or inferior]
Ž¢“™ nanjira ye; you [emphatic plural]
Ancestors
c‘c kouso tenno-line founder
c@ kōsō tenno-line ancestors
äݐ¢ (–œ¢) bansei myriad generations; many (numerous, countless) generations. See above.
Numbers
•S hyaku hundred
äÝ (–œ) man, ban ten-thousand, myriad;
Greek "myriad" also means "ten-thousand".
ˆê‰­ ichioku one-hundred million. Standard population of empire.
‰­’› okuchō hundred-million trillion, i.e., uncountable, countless
Sometimes used to mean –œ–¯ or "myriad people".
Other words
í sen war, hostilities, battle
ŠˆÈ yuen reason
Žu kororozashi [my] purpose
Žu‘€ shisō constancy of purpose
ˆÓ i [my] sentiments
Other phrases
EEEƒJ”@ƒLƒn [ v ] ga gotoki wa something like [doing]
EEEƒm”@ƒNƒ€ƒn . . . no gotokumuba as [things] are like . . ., [things] being like . . .
ŒÅƒˆƒŠEEEƒjƒAƒ‰ƒX  motoyori . . . ni arazu has (will) not at any time been (be) . . .
EEE“ïƒLƒ’EEE [ v- ] -gataki o [ v ] [to do] what is hard - [ - to do]
EEEƒ’é“ (‘Ì) ƒZƒˆ . . . o tai seyo incorporate (embody) . . .

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