is no mistaking the impact of the family genes on
Yuko Tojo: she has the same myopic, almond-shaped
eyes, thin mouth and wide cheekbones as her
who led Japan to disastrous defeat in World
War II. She even affects his rigid military
66, clearly idolizes her grandfather, who was
executed as Japan's top war criminal in 1948: she
often comes to interviews with foreign journalists
carrying a box of mementos that
include nail clippings, a lock of hair and the
butt of the last cigarette the general smoked
while awaiting the hangman's noose in Sugamo
Contrary to those who put Tojo in
the small club of World War II monsters along with
Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, she insists the
man who ordered the Pearl Harbor attack led a "war
of freedom" in Asia. "Essentially he was a kind
man who loved peace," she said. "He
defending his country against foreign aggressors.
His greatest crime was that he loved his country."
In another time or place, she might be
considered a harmless relic, or have opted to
remain living anonymously under her real
name,Toshie Iwanami. But 60 years after the end of
World War II, this tiny woman with impeccable
manners and the air of a retired school teacher is
one of the most toxic figures in a growing
historical revisionist movement that is again
pulling Asia apart.
The revisionists have
already sparked a storm of protest by publishing
school textbooks that gloss over imperial Japan's
worst war crimes. Now they risk further
confrontation with an increasingly powerful and
assertive China by pushing for annual prime
ministerial visits to Yasukuni shrine, which many
consider a memorial to unrepentant militarism.
In the months leading up to August and the
60th anniversary of Japan's surrender, Tojo was
exceptionally busy, giving long interviews to
members of the Japanese and foreign media,
including the Arab satellite news channel
al-Jazeera, the British Financial Times and
several South Korean media outlets. On August 15,
she was widely photographed at Yasukuni shrine,
grim-faced, alone and holding a large portrait of
her executed grandfather.
photograph, taken on a day when the shrine hosted
200,000 people, including Tokyo Governor Shintaro
Ishihara, Shinzo Abe, who was then acting Liberal
Democratic Party (LDP) general secretary, and
heroes of the right such as Hiroo Onoda, 
captured Tojo in her favorite pose: the stubborn
patriot, sotto voce, battling against
Japan's political establishment to rescue from the
dustbin of history her grandfather, and, by
implication, the millions of soldiers he led. She
reinforced this position later that day when she
publicly berated Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
for breaking a promise to visit the memorial. 
He visited the shrine last month.
inspection, however, Tojo is very much a child of
the establishment, albeit a wing banished to the
political margins during Japan's US-sponsored Cold
War heyday. Her reemergence after more than a
quarter century of quiet domestic life is evidence
that her brand of recidivist, ultra-nationalist
politics has been reembraced by elements of the
LDP and the various fringe political, religious
and cultural satellites that hover around it.
The project that unites them is
straightforward, if unsettling: reverse the
decisions of the Tokyo Tribunal; annul the current
constitution, especially the hated Article Nine,
which essentially renders the country pacifist;
radically revise the educational curriculum and
reposition Yasukuni as a core element of state
ideology. If successful, it amounts to nothing
less than a conservative revolution - an attempt
to roll back much of the last half-century of
liberal gains in Japan.
Tojo was born in
1939 in Japanese-occupied Seoul to Hidetaka Tojo,
the general's eldest son. She remembers little of
her grandfather, who became prime minister in
October 1941, except that he was "kind but stern"
and had little time to spend with his family.
After the war ended, the family moved to remote
Ito in Shizuoka prefecture under the protection of
sympathizers, where she and her brothers were
bullied - an unhappy period that profoundly shaped
the psychology of a young girl not yet in her
teens. She later wrote of hearing adults whisper
the word koshukei (death by hanging), and
of watching in horror as other children mimicked
her grandfather's death.
Tojo claims her
family name "was untouchable for 50 years", but
the family appears to have prospered and wielded
power in corporate, military and public affairs
realms. The general's second son, Teruo Tojo, is a
former vice president of Mitsubishi Heavy
Industries and chairman of Mitsubishi Motors who
designed aircraft during and after the war.
Youngest son Toshio was a major general in the Air
Self-Defense Forces. Daughter Mitsue married
Shigeru Sugiyama, who became head of Japan's
Ground Self-Defense Force. Tojo says her husband
was a TV producer at state broadcaster NHK for
more than 30 years before becoming a university
teacher, and her younger brother, Takayuki, is a
former president of Japan Victor in Germany. 
Tojo quit Meiji Gakuin University in her
twenties to marry, and had four children. One of
her daughters today lives in the US and is married
to an American who works for Boeing Corp. Tojo
harbors little of the obvious anti-American
sentiment of some on the right in Japan: when told
recently by her distraught daughter that her
son-in-law would soon be going to Iraq to work,
Tojo told her it couldn't be helped because "one
had to defend one's country".
Tokyo trials, her grandfather was "very impressed"
with his American lawyers. "Those people treated
him with great respect and he respected them, even
as enemies," she said.
When her children
were older, she enrolled in Kokushikan University
to take a degree in education, where some
speculate she was courted by right-wing lobby
groups such as the Nihon Kaigi (The Japan
Conference). After graduation in 1988 she came out
of the political closet and began speaking on
platforms for popular nationalist causes, among
them the retrieval of fallen Japanese soldiers
abroad, the reinstatement of a national holiday
for the Showa emperor and official state visits to
She also formed the
Environmental Solution Institute (ESI)and began
researching a book about her grandfather. There is
some uncertainty about what ESI actually does - in
an interview Tojo said it markets products and
fights for environmental protection laws. Its
homepage lists Tojo (under her real name Toshie
Iwanami) as president and various family members
and known right-wing figures as directors.
These include Kotoku Kamiya, who is also
chairperson of a support organization for
Seicho no Ie, (Truth of Life; a Shinto cult
established in 1930 and reformed in 1949, it
campaigns to replace Japan's postwar
constitution.) Boasting 5 million members
worldwide, its supporters include ultra-right
author Kunio Suzuki and other members of the
revisionist right in Japan.
of Tojo's organization, Isamu Kai, is director of
a memorial to General Tojo and six other A-class
war criminals as well as more than 1,000 B- and
C-class criminals called Koa Kannon in Shizuoka
prefecture. Tojo is also listed as a supporter of
several right-wing organizations, including the
Society for History Textbook Reform and the Showa
Day Promotion Network, a lobby group that long
campaigned to have the Green Day national holiday
on April 29 declared Showa Day in honor of Emperor
Hirohito. In May, the diet approved the bill
making Showa Day a national holiday.
groups that form part of the matrix of support for
Tojo include ultra-conservative lobby group
Nihon wo mamoru kokumin kaigi (The National
Association for the Protection of Japan, now
merged with the Japan Conference), the Association
for the Victims of North Korean Abductions
(Rachi higaisha no kai), and the Japanese
War Bereaved Association (Nihon izoku kai),
an organization claiming 1 million members that
has been widely credited with being the most
important political force behind Koizumi's
Yasukuni visits. Such connections put her in the
political orbit of many senior LDP figures,
including Foreign Minister Taro Aso, chief cabinet
secretary Shinzo Abe and former trade minister
In 1992, Tojo published a
book, Never Talk: The Postwar Life of Tojo
Hideki's Family (Issai kataru nakare - sofu
Tojo Hideki ichizoku no sengo lit). In 1995
she wrote a fawning memoir, My Grandfather Tojo
Hideki. The book upset some of her family who
disliked being dragged back into the political
spotlight, but it sold more than 120,000 copies
and became the basis of the landmark revisionist
project Pride, one of the highest grossing
Japanese movies of 1998.  She published a
second volume of family memoirs called The Tojo
Family's Hahakogusain 2003 (Tojoke no
Tojo's decision to go
public coincided with a period of profound
transition in Japan as the giddy economic
achievements and hubris of the 1980s gave way to
decline, political stagnation and national
soul-searching of the 1990s. The name Tojo was a
rallying point for some on the right who looked
for answers to these problems in a
semi-mythologized past, when Japan was strong,
independent and answered to nobody. As Japan's
crisis deepened, the issues buried beneath the
expedient postwar political settlement bubbled
back to the surface like untreated sewage, and she
gave them a voice.
All this is not to
paint a picture of a united or even cohesive
right-wing project to drag Japan back to the past.
Many in the LDP find Tojo's pronouncements
irritating; given the number of times she has
called Koizumi "gutless" she is unlikely to be
invited to the prime minister's residence any time
soon. Few establishment politicians publicly share
her opinion that the emperor is "the essence of
Japan" (see interview below), and some are likely
to be unsympathetic, to put it at its mildest, to
her staunch defense of imperial rule during the
slaughter of the 1930s and 1940s. Even among the
ultra-right she has inherited the fractious
politics of the past along with her family name:
her grandfather uneasily straddled the political
and military worlds (as prime minister and head of
the military) and he eventually purged the most
extremist elements of Kodo-ha (The Imperial
Way Faction), earning him the lasting animosity of
its modern followers.
articulates a set of views that resonate in a
country floundering since the end of the Cold War
and spooked by the rise of China: resentment at
the outcome of the Tokyo trials and the legacy of
victor's justice; disdain for the nihilism of
contemporary Japanese life; distrust and dislike
of Beijing and of the bureaucratic parlor games of
diplomacy; a preference for a more muscular,
independent foreign policy backed by a strong
military. This environment helps explain why a
woman who might two decades ago have been an
occasional afternoon side-show curiosity has
emerged as an influential commentator on
contemporary Japanese affairs.
following are excerpts of a recent interview with
David McNeill: Do you
remember your grandfather?
Tojo: My memories of him are slight. My
grandfather became prime minister when I was just
two years old. He was away most of the time during
the following three years and eight months. And at
the end of the war, my family hid in Ito for five
years, and my grandfather was detained at Sugamo
Prison. There were lots of people in the house:
the driver and so on, so we seldom got time alone.
During the war my mother used to bring me and my
older brother, Hidekatsu, to the prime minister's
residence every day where we were left to
Once in a while, we were able
to eat with our grandfather in the residence, with
an official cook and staff, but I can't really
remember his face. My brother remembers him. He
used to sit on his knee. My grandfather used to
feed him fruit. My brother said he was a really
gentle person. He felt sorry for the children of
the drivers and police because their fathers were
so busy. He used to play with the children in the
garden and bring them toys. When grandfather was
in Sugamo my brother went to see him often.
Grandfather worried terribly about my brother's
future, how he was going to suffer with that name.
We suffered awful discrimination with our name. We
weren't allowed to sit in class. Even when we
changed schools we weren't allowed into the
classroom. My little sister was beaten and came
home covered in blood. My brother couldn't go to
school so he was taught by private tutors. That
was what it was like at the end of the war in
Japan. Iwanami was my real name. I didn't start to
use Tojo until quite recently. The name Tojo was
untouchable for 50 years. What changed it was the
you think Japanese schools should teach more about
don't think there is any particular need to teach
about him as an individual. The Meiji Era was the
first time that a small Asian country had made an
impression on the West. It was a source of pride
that in Scotland and Turkey and elsewhere they
named streets and buildings after us. Japan should
have pride in these things, and they should be
taught. We should properly explain the
international situation at the time, and what the
Tokyo Trials were all about. How terrible the
situation was. We were surrounded and facing
attack. We had no oil, or steel and all our assets
abroad were seized. How were we to protect all
those millions of Japanese except by standing up
for ourselves? The media - the Asahi, Yomiuri, all
of them were fanning the flames, saying: "What is
Tojo up to? Why doesn't he fight back?"
The media can't say it was not involved.
The people were also involved. Even fifth-grade
elementary students were asking: what will we do
without steel or oil? And now they talk about the
emperor's responsibility. It is terribly
saddening. The Japanese government is concealing
all this. It's not a question of respecting my
grandfather. It's about learning to respect
someone who loved and fought for his country. Not
just Tojo, but also the 2.6 million soldiers who
died. We should respect those who fought for their
country and that's what should be taught in
DM: Some describe
him as "an extreme nationalist and a fascist who
hated the very notion of compromise with Britain
and the US".
YT: People say
lots of things. He loved his country.
DM: You could make the same
arguments for Hitler, though, couldn't you? He
loved his country too.
That's different. He killed his own people - Jews.
DM: Well, he did. But those
who support him would say the same as you - that
he loved Germany above all else. And in any case,
[they said] "Jews were not real Germans".
YT: My grandfather didn't
kill his own people. A lot of people died as a
result of a war that could not have been avoided.
You have to properly understand the stance of each
country. And therefore you need to teach why the
countries went to war. We shouldn't keep repeating
that Japan was bad. That destroys pride in our
country. I mean, if you join a company and are
told that the boss is a bad guy and the company is
evil, you'll stop wanting to work for that
company. It's the same.
Japan might not have killed Jews, but it is
accused of massacring millions of Chinese.
YT: That was in battle.
Please don't confuse the two. Do you know what
benhei [soldiers masquerading as civilians]
means? They are soldiers who hide among civilians
and attack the Japanese army from behind. You can
only tell once you capture them. Australians,
British and Americans probably don't know, but in
what is referred to as the Nanjing Massacre there
were many such people. Western journalists all
believe this Nanjing Massacre. The Chinese say
300,000 were killed. There were media
representatives from 150 countries. And as the
army entered [she uses the word nyujyo
here, which means to enter a city triumphantly]
Nanjing and began their assault on the city's
castle these reporters were running alongside
them. That's how important the Japanese side
thought this was. A safety area was set up with
200,000 under John Rabe and the International
Committee for the Nanjing Safety Zone. So how
could 300,000 people have been killed?
DM: I've heard that argument
many times before. The truth is nobody knows
exactly how many people were there, but certainly
the numbers were swelled by refugees from outside
the city. We don't have to get bogged down in
figures to know that the army behaved brutally.
There were many witnesses, including Rabe, who
even as a Nazi was shocked at the behavior of the
YT: There was only
one witness at the Tokyo trials who said he
actually saw what had happened. The rest was
complete rumor and hearsay [denbun
DM: Rabe was
not the only witness. There were reporters there,
including one from the New York Times, another
from the Manchester Guardian, not to mention
thousands of Chinese civilians.
YT: The truth is coming out
now. Fujioka-san (of the Society for History
Textbook Reform) has researched this and shown
one-by-one how the photographs of the incident
were faked by the Chinese side.
DM: I'm sure there is
probably some faked evidence, but how can you only
focus on the molehill of evidence that supports
your claim and ignore the mountain that refutes
Anyway, the truth doesn't just come from one side.
You have to look at what really happened from all
sides because there is so much hearsay.
DM: So do you think that
China and Japan should cooperate to create history
YT: No, mutual
understanding is impossible because each country's
stance [tachiba] is different. Even when
the truth is the same, the interpretation by China
and Japan is often completely the opposite. For
example, for Koreans the man who assassinated
Hirobumi Ito [1841-1909 - first prime minister and
drafter of Meiji constitution], An Chung-gun, is a
hero, but to us he is a criminal. That's the kind
of thing I mean. It's completely impossible.
DM: I'd like to ask you
about Unit 731. [Tojo was commander of the
Kempeitai of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria when
Unit 731, charged with developing chemical and
biological weapons, began experimenting with live
victims. Tojo was allegedly a supporter of
biological warfare and the work of Shiro Ishii,
the chief medical scientist at 731.]
YT: I know nothing about
that or what went on in Manchuria. I'm not a
historian. If you want to talk about Yasukuni or
something like that, ask me. For anything else,
ask a historian.
you've heard of it?
seen the photos by China, which look at ways of
disinfecting against pests. I don't know about it.
DM: Why didn't your
grandfather kill himself by committing
seppuku like other leaders?
YT: You know how Mussolini
died: being lynched and hung upside down in the
streets? And Hitler's death was tragic too. He
wanted to avoid those kinds of deaths. And of
course my grandfather knew his death would be
broadcast all over the world. He didn't want to
shoot himself in the head because he didn't want
his face to be destroyed and sent all over the
world. He would have died from the shooting wound
to his heart, from bleeding, but he was saved by
the Americans who wanted to put him on trial.
DM: Do you resent America?
YT: Not even a little. If I
resented America I wouldn't be happy that my
daughter was married to a citizen of that country,
would I? My grandfather admired America and said
we could learn from it. And his American lawyers
defended him and said the most amazing things.
Other lawyers strongly criticize the actions of
the Allied Forces. Those people treated my
grandfather with great respect and he respected
them, even as enemies.
Can I ask you about the emperor? How do you feel
about millions of people being trained to believe
that it was noble and beautiful to die for the
YT: It wasn't
beautiful to die for the emperor. People were
trained from birth as samurai, as soldiers. It was
considered natural for millions of people to work
and ensure that the emperor was not dishonored.
This wasn't for the emperor; it was for the
country - to protect the country. That was the
belief: it was absolutely natural for people to
take responsibility for protecting the country.
DM: You don't want to go
back to that?
YT: That was
then, for better or worse, no matter how we look
at it now. This is now. Japan has been at peace
for 60 years.
war happen again, perhaps with China?
YT: Of course not! The world
wouldn't accept this. If China tried to do
something, Taiwan, America and other countries
would become involved. The world would be looking
on. There is no way Japan will become involved in
a war with China. We are told we are not a
military power even though we are an economic
power, right? We don't have an army, just defense
forces, right? We have no nuclear weapons. The
countries that have these things are America and
China. We are not an aggressive
[kogekiteki] country. When we did go to
war, it was because it couldn't have been avoided.
DM: How about an attack by
YT: That is not
a normal country. Who knows what it will do.
DM: You don't think there
are a lot of similarities between North Korea
today and wartime Japan?
Absolutely not; please don't make that comparison.
That is an insult to those who died in the war.
DM: Do you think the emperor
bore any responsibility for what happened?
YT: None at all; his majesty
wanted peace above all. [Heika wa akumademo
heiwa wo motometeita] The emperor is a special
existence [tokubetsu na sonzai]. He is not
little normal people. The Japanese imperial family
is not like the English royal family. He was
respected deeply by Japanese people who happily
gave up their lives for him. People died saying,
"Long Live the Emperor!" They didn't shout, "Long
Live General Tojo!" Two point six million of these
people are in Yasukuni and that's why we should go
there to pay our respects. I really want that with
all my heart.
grandfather had no resentment against the emperor?
He lived while many others were executed.
YT: If there was no emperor
there would be no Japan. My grandfather and others
died to protect the emperor, to protect Japan.
That was perfectly natural. We can't even talk
about those beliefs today. The idea that he is a
symbol of Japan as we have been taught in the
postwar period is insulting to the emperor. He is
the essence of Japan [kokka genshi]. He is
nothing at all like a US president. He is Japan.
DM: But the emperor himself
admits he is Korean.
know nothing about his roots, but I was astonished
that he said such a thing. His majesty [it is
clear here that heika refers throughout to
the Showa emperor, not the current occupier of the
Chrysanthemum Throne] would never have said such a
thing. He knew the limits of what to say. The
current crown prince [Naruhito] chatters away
about everything. As the national essence
[kokka genshi] he has to know what to say.
He has to maintain the dignity [igen] of
the imperial family.
emperor also seems ambiguous about the flag and
country doesn't have a flag and anthem? Why does
only Japan have to endure this stupid criticism?
DM: What are your feelings
about Yasukuni? About your grandfather's secret
prime minister promised to visit on August 15 and
he should. He should ignore pressure from China
and other countries. This is a domestic affair.
DM: China has the right to
protest though doesn't it? Japan invaded their
country and killed millions.
YT: China played no part in
the San Francisco Treaty. Countries that were not
involved in the treaty or the Tokyo Trials have no
right to talk about war criminals now. So why is
China complaining now? The Japanese fought the
nationalists [KMT] not the communists. It is now a
completely different country. China and Japan
later signed a treaty, and war criminals and
prisoners were released. The word war criminal
[senpan] does not exist in that treaty.
They should abide by that treaty. It is
unforgivable [zettai yurusanai] that they
continue to interfere in our domestic affairs.
DM: Do you feel that Japan
should not recognize the results of the Tokyo
YT: On May 3, 1952,
MacArthur said Japan fought a war of defense.
Japan had no choice. It had no resources, he said.
My grandfather said the same. Despite this, our
own government can't say the same. It is very odd.
MacArthur said it wasn't a war of aggression but
now Chinese people who weren't even there can call
it a war of aggression.
So it was a war for resources?
YT: No. We were standing up
for ourselves. Every country accepts the notion of
DM: Is this
why your grandfather referred to himself as a "war
responsible person" but not a "war criminal"?
YT: Yes. He behaved like a
samurai, and took responsibility for his failures
as a good soldier. But by what definition was he a
Onoda returned to Japan in 1974 after 29 years on
the Philippine island of Lubang, where he fought
as an army lieutenant. He was apparently unaware
that World War II had ended. He was later pardoned
by the Philippine government for killing at least
30 Filipinos and wounding about 100 others during
 Tojo also criticized
Shintaro Ishihara in a September interview on the
right-wing Sakura TV channel after the Tokyo
governor said that Tojo was not worthy to be
worshipped as a god at Yasukuni because he had
only used a 22-caliber weapon in his attempted
 Of General Tojo's children, daughter
Makie (nee Tamura) seems to have lived the most
anonymous life. Her late husband, Major Koga, was
one of the conspirators who tried to stop the
Showa emperor's surrender on August 15, 1945. She
remarried and became a case worker in the National
Mental Health Research Institute.
an interview with Fuji Television on June 5, Tojo
said her family reacted "coldly" to the
publication of the books. "I explained that I was
not speaking as a member of the Tojo family but as
an individual," she said. The decision ended her
relationship with her uncle, Teruo Tojo.
(Many thanks to Amakasu Tomoko for her
help in researching this article.)
David McNeill is a Tokyo-based
journalist who teaches at Sophia University. A
Japan Focus coordinator, he is a regular
contributor to the London Independent and a
columnist for OhMy News.