Japan's Longest Day

ISBN: 978-4-7700-2887-3
Review Date:

Japanese Title: Nihon no Ichiban Nagai Hi

The events that surround Japan's surrender to the allies in World War II are common knowledge. In an attempt to force Japan to face the inevitable, the US dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Furthermore on the same day Nagasaki disappeared from the face of the Earth, the Soviet Union finally entered the war against Japan with a stunning attack on the Kwantung Army.

Despite this, Japan's government was still in a deadlock and eventually those that wished for peace implored onto the Emperor to intervene to which he did on August 14th, 1945. In convincing his subjects to accept the Potsdam declaration, Hirohito told them to "To bear the unbearable." Even a majority of the hardliners eventually and reluctantly accepted the order.

What is not completely known however was fact that there were those that did not desire this outcome and would do everything they could in order to prevent the surrender from taking place, preferring annihilation to surrender and the consequences for Japan falling under foreign control for they fear that their entire culture would be lost. Several groups within the army resorted to military coups, taking out potential targets to stop the surrender. The main coup took place at the Imperial Palace as army rebels led by Major Kenji Hatanaka lead an uprising that seized control of the Imperial Palace. Interrogating the prisoners that they manage to acquire, the rebels would search for the recordings of Hirohito's speech, destroy them and then prepare another speech, proclaiming Japan's intent to fight to the death. If the coup plotters had succeeded, then, the destruction could have continued and perhaps even more, invasion and perhaps utter destruction of the Japanese home islands. Fortunately they did not succeed and Japan was finally able to end the nightmarish war that it had foolishly plunged itself and the Pacific into for four long hellish years. With the overall events taking place in the 24 hours between August 14 and 15, thus came the title to describe the series of events as Japan's Longest Day.

Published in 1965 by Bungei Shunju Ltd. under the name Nihon no Ichiban Nagai Hi and brought to the US by Kodansha, Japan's Longest Day deals with the 24 hours that lead up to the broadcast of Hirohito's speech. In those 24 hours, the fate of Japan would be decided between those that wanted to surrender and save their home and those that were willing to sacrifice the country to save her honor as well as their own lives. In researching for this book, the Pacific War Research Society, a panel of distinguished Japanese scholars and journalists, interviewed as many of the participants of the event as well as the published material available about that day at the time. It proved to be a difficult process as twenty years have passed and thus memories have faded, participants have taken a vow of silence or have mentioned different information about the matter, etc. Such contradictory statements or the unwillingness by the participants to talk can be seen as a form of Japan's overall inability to fully look at the war. A very interesting book that serves as a cultural look as well as some of those elements still remain despite the changes after the occupation.

The book tells its story in two parts. The first part is the lead up in one large chapter from July 26 to August 14 and then the second part deals with the 24 hours of the incident, which ends with the Emperor's broadcast playing on Japanese radio at 12:00pm on August 15. The content in the second part of the book has chapter titles that do not look out of place on the Fox television series “24”. Throughout the book, there are pictures of the large cast, the locations and several artifacts from the period.

After the story concludes, there is a section of notes to the overall story and a long list of characters that were involved in the event with the key members having their last name bolded. Some names had asterisks right next to them to indicate that the authors interviewed them for the book.

Stories in history have often served as the basis for movies and Japan's Longest Day was no exception. Two years after the book appeared to the public, Toho would adopt it into a movie to celebrate the company's 35th anniversary with almost every major Japanese star at the time amongst its cast. On the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender, the Japanese studio Shochiku would also adapt the book into movie form, which it released on August 8th, 2015.

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