Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | August 2, 2015

The Emperor’s Words After The Atomic Bombs

Emperor Hirohito’s voice was heard by the Japanese people for the first time in a radio broadcast on August 15, 1945. Before that, only his closest advisers and his family had actually heard him speak. After all, he was considered—by the Japanese—to be a living deity.

Scholars and historians are still at odds over the emperor’s culpability during WWII.  Some criticized MacArthur for allowing him to escape the fate that other Japanese, such as Tojo suffered.

After the war, Hirohito studied marine biology and wrote several scholarly papers on the subject.

In 1989, I was traveling for business and saw videos of thousands of Japanese in the streets, mourning the death of their “Showa Emperor.”  The following bit of poetry came without many revisions.


Thousands of black umbrellas

like bubbles on a pool of oil,

reflect the Japanese winter sky.

Solemn faces at the edge

stare up at the camera,

tilting their protection;

rain wets their white shirts.

Some of these, no doubt,

once watched the Emperor of The Rising Sun

pacing a white stallion across palace lawns,

glittering in plumed helmet and medieval armor,

inside the Imperial moat.

Some had screamed “Tora, Tora, Tora!”

above a sleeping harborå

in a December dawn.

Others shook in the steam of malarial jungles.


They stand wrinkled in the chill rain,

caught somewhere between the glory

that sat on the Chrysanthemum Throne

and golf on Okinawa;

just miles up the sunny coast from cliffs

where Imperial Army troops leaped,

in a hara-kiri dive

rather than fall before the sweep

of America’s steel typhoon.

The Sony’s picture is clear, its colors exact;

Hirohito is dead.

Mourning for their emperor,

death of empire,

began when they first heard him speak;

-the voice of god in radio static

telling of incredible brightness

at Hiroshima

at Nagasaki

and unconditional surrender.

He knelt then,

more than forty years

before his sea anemones.

Did they bow delicate, watery heads

before his hand?



  1. Keen observations, Tom. I recall scornful looks from old men on benches while visiting the sight of the Great Buda at Kamakura. I’ve been to the moat around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo near the Ginza. As for the truth about his culpability, we can only guess.

    This passage shows a keen observation,
    “Solemn faces at the edge

    stare up at the camera,

    tilting their protection;

    rain wets their white shirts.”
    White is a color of mourning in Japan.

    Your poignant words resonate with my experiences. I can’t ignore that my dad’s ship USS Raliegh CL-7 was one of the first ships hit at Pearl Harbor on that Day of Infamy while moored where the Japanese expected to find the carriers.

    While patrolling the Trust Territories of the Pacific 20 years after most of the major battles, we visited scenes of major defeats in places like Truck, Palau, Guam, Saipan, Tinnian and Iwo Jima.

    Well done my friend!

  2. Beautiful

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