On August 9, 1945, Emperor Hirohito met with his top ministers to discuss the Allied terms of surrender outlined in The Potsdam Declaration.


Emperor Hirohito

Since the 1930’s, Japan had been waging a war of conquest in Asia. Now with her overseas empire collapsing, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki leveled by atomic bombs and Soviet Forces entering the war against her, Emperor Hirohito and his ministers agreed to surrender under the condition that the Emperor’s sovereignty remain intact. Their decision was sent to the Allies through envoys in neutral Switzerland and Sweden.

On August 12, the Allies replied stating that the rule of Emperor Hirohito and the Japanese government would be subordinate to the Allied Supreme Commander.

While the Japanese government mulled over their reply, the news of a possible surrender was met with fiery opposition by many Japanese military officers who intended to continue the war and fight to the death.

On the evening of August 14, after the decision to accept unconditional surrender was formalized, a group of Japanese Army officers led by Major Kenji Hatanaka launched a coup d’état. Their plan was to take control of the Imperial Palace, hold the Emperor hostage and stop a formal surrender speech the Emperor had recorded, from being broadcast on the radio.


Major Kenji Hatanaka

By 1:00am on August 15, Major Hatanaka’s rebels had seized the Imperial Palace. Hoping the capture of the palace would inspire other Japanese Army officers to join him, Hatanaka went to the office of Lieutenant General Takeshi Mori, commander of the 1st Imperial Guards Division to ask for his support. When Mori refused, the rebels killed both Mori and his brother-in-law.

For the next several hours, the rebels unsuccessfully searched the palace for the recording of Emperor Hirohito’s surrender broadcast and for Imperial House Minister, Sotaro Ishiwatari and Koichi Kido, Lord of the Privy Seal both of whom had been hiding in a large room underneath the palace.

At about 5:00am, with word that the Eastern District Army was on its way to put down the rebellion, Major Hatanaka went to NHK studios to broadcast an explanation of his actions. However, even after threatening NHK employees with a pistol, he was unable to get any airtime.

By 8:00am the rebellion had fallen apart. Hatanaka and a co-conspirator rode through the streets tossing out leaflets justifying their actions. Around 11:00am Major Kenji Hatanaka shot himself. In his pocket he left behind a death poem: “I have nothing to regret now that the dark clouds have disappeared from the reign of the Emperor”.

An hour later, at 12 noon, Emperor Hirohito broadcasted his surrender speech, bringing WWII to an end.

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