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Japan Marks Hirohito Anniversary

January 6, 1999

TOKYO (AP) _ Ten years after his death, Emperor Hirohito is a fading memory for many Japanese. But in former soldier Hakudo Nagatomi’s mind, his image is clear: a false god in whose name he became a murderer.

As a Japanese spy and later a fighter in the 1930s and ’40s in China, Nagatomi, now 82, killed freely _ never once doubting that he was fighting on behalf of a deity.

``The people in China were against the emperor,″ he said Wednesday in an interview with Associated Press Television News. ``So I believed it was right to kill Chinese opposed to him.″

A decade after Hirohito died on Jan. 7, 1989, the emperor who reigned over Japan for 63 years remains an ambiguous figure: A war-monger to some, a hero to others, a powerless _ and blameless _ monarch to many.

Officials were planning to mark Hirohito’s death at imperial tombs on the outskirts of Tokyo on Thursday, but there were few other signs of mourning in Japan this week.

Despite the quiet passing of the anniversary, Hirohito easily could be considered the pivotal Japanese figure of the 20th century.

He assumed the throne in 1926, and reigned over a Japan that grew increasingly nationalistic and aggressive, gobbling up chunks of Asia in the 1930s and 40s and making war on the United States in 1941.

It was during this era that Nagatomi and millions of other Japanese revered Hirohito as a diety in whose name they were ready to kill and to be killed.

``My feeling was to be absolutely loyal to the emperor and to die for the emperor,″ said Nagatomi, who stayed on in China after the war to fight the communists. ``Now, I think it was completely wrong.″

Nagatomi’s conversion came when Chinese authorities arrested him and forced him to confess his atrocities _ but then decided to spare his life and put him in prison.

He returned to Japan in 1963, and a few years later began to speak about his wartime experiences, lecturing and writing. He has been a vocal proponent of a more forceful apology from Tokyo for its wartime actions.

``The emperor cannot escape responsibility for committing great sins against the Chinese and Japanese people,″ Nagatomi said. ``He cannot be forgiven.″

Hirohito was also a central figure at the end of the war, announcing Japan’s surrender in the first broadcast of an emperor’s voice and renouncing his divinity.

The U.S. decision not to prosecute the emperor for the war and his high-profile role in remaking Japan into a pacifist state have left his wartime role and his responsibility a matter of historical debate.

Yoichi Kibata, a historian at the prestigious University of Tokyo, said Hirohito never said much about the war, but evidence indicates he was pleased with the military successes early on.

``He was at the top of the Japanese ruling system, and very serious and important information reached him,″ said Kabata, adding that Hirohito was in favor of Japan’s military advance through Asia.

But for younger Japanese, who were barely teen-agers when he died, Hirohito is a hazy figure.

``He was the man who caused and ended the war, right?″ said Kenta Yuzawa, 19, when asked about Hirohito on a Tokyo street Wednesday.

A friend, Yoshie Matsuda, 21, was even on shakier ground.

``I don’t really have much of an impression about him,″ she said.