Thursday, April 3, 2014
Royal Profile: Prince Yasuhiko Asaka of Japan
Prince Asaka studied tactics and did quite well but had a brush with death, being severely injured in a car accident while traveling in Normandy in which his cousin, Prince Kitashirakawa, was sadly killed. Princess Asaka rushed to France to be at his side and care for her husband herself and while he did recover the Prince would walk with a limp for the rest of his life. After leaving France, the Prince and Princess Asaka traveled to the United States. He was greatly impressed by the industry and technology of America, as well as the architecture as, upon returning to Japan, he had a new home built for his family in Tokyo in the Art Deco style that was all the rage in America (this home later became the official residence of the prime minister and today houses the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum) in 1925. Sadly, not long after his grand, new home was finished in 1933 Princess Asaka died at only 42-years old. A devoted and compassionate woman, not a few have wondered if the life of the Prince would have unfolded the same way had her presence not been deprived from him and her family.
Because he was seen as being partial to the politics of the right-wing, which the Emperor viewed as somewhat improper for a member of the Imperial Family, the trust that had existed between the two was somewhat diminished. Yet, while some factions, like those involved in the February 26 Incident, did have some radical ideas included in their manifesto, few could doubt that had the best interests of their country and people at heart. In any event, because of his perceived political ties, Prince Asaka was ordered out of Tokyo and transferred to the Japanese Central China Area Army in 1937. It is important to remember, in light of later events, that most viewed this as something of a ‘step down’ and was therefore, a sort of disciplinary action for straying into the political realm. Fortunately for Japan, Prince Asaka was a skilled soldier, unfortunately, his greatest success would be followed by a scandal that has haunted his country ever since. The army was, at that time, engaged in a fierce battle against the nationalists of the Republic of China who were fighting in front of their capital city, the city of Nanking. The commander of the army, General Matsui Iwane, was old and in poor health and relinquished command to his deputy, Prince Asaka who directed the final attack that saw the Chinese forces broken and the Japanese conquest of Nanking.
accounts vary wildly and in subsequent studies a great deal of the supposed “evidence” has been found to have been fabricated or tampered with. In the end, General Matsui was executed for the crime by the Allies after the war, however, in spite of, or perhaps even because of that, some have since argued that Prince Asaka was the one responsible for what did (or did not) happen when the Japanese occupied Nanking. This is not the place to go into the details of that whole controversy, however, as it concerns Prince Asaka himself, it must seem extremely improbable to any dispassionate observer that the Prince would actually order any such act of brutality. People have pointed to his far-right political ties (real or perceived) as evidence to condemn him but, actually, this shows how unlikely it is that the Prince would commit such a crime. After all, he was in China in the first place because he was, effectively, being punished and pushed out of the imperial inner-circle because of those right-wing ties. For someone who was, effectively, “on probation” one might say, ordering such an atrocity, especially at that particular time, would seem impossible to believe. Setting morality aside for the moment, simple self-interest would suggest that the Prince had the most reason to deplore such a violation of discipline and the code of military justice.
In any event, both General Matsui and Prince Asaka were recalled to Japan in the aftermath of the incident and while he remained on the Supreme War Council and was promoted to full general in 1939, he never held an active military command again. Still, his devotion to the august Emperor and Empire of Japan never wavered and as the war dragged on Prince Asaka showed himself willing to cross into the political realm if he felt the survival of the country depended on it. This happened in 1944 when Prince Asaka, along with three others, worked together to bring down the war-time government of Prime Minister and former General Hideki Tojo on the basis that Japan was clearly losing the war. Nonetheless, after the war Prince Asaka was interrogated by the American forces, mostly regarding the events at Nanking, but he was not brought to trial, General Matsui instead being tried and executed. Some have since accused General MacArthur of covering up for the Prince because he was a member of the Imperial Family but, in fact, it would have been very difficult to hold Prince Asaka to blame in any event based on the precedent already set by the Allied forces in the immediate post-war military trial of General Yamashita who was held to blame for crimes committed without his orders and without his knowledge by troops under his command (as ridiculous as that still sounds). So, General Matsui, even if he was absent during the event, would still have had to be executed or else it would have highlighted what a gross injustice the execution of General Yamashita had been. These arguments also take for granted the guilt of Prince Asaka when, in fact, there is no evidence that he ordered any acts of brutality and he had absolutely no motive to do so, in fact, he had every motivation to avoid such a thing.