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Date: Thursday, 27 September 1945
Place: Tokyo, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan
Photographer: Lieutenant Gaetano Faillance
On September 27, 1945, Emperor Hirohito paid a visit to US Army General Douglas MacArthur at the United States Embassy in Tokyo. Except for the Emperor's personal translator (he spoke the Imperial Dialect of Japanese, which was difficult for native Japanese to understand) his entourage was politely, but effectively, shut out of the meeting. The two met for minutes and one photo was taken. Hirohito accepted responsibility for the conduct of the war, unaware that MacArthur, over the objections of Stalin and the British, has removed his name from the list of war criminals, fearing guerrilla actions if he were to stand trial. The next day, the photo was run in newspapers in Japan and the United States. General Douglas MacArthur had landed at Atsugi airbase two days before; since the VJ day, he had been asked by President Truman to oversee the occupation of Japan. It was a daunting task. On his drive to Yokohama from Atsugi, tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers greeted him with their bayonets out in one final act of symbolic defiance. Seventy percent of Americans thought Emperor Hirohito should be persecuted; there were protests outside MacArthur’s headquarters by American servicemen and calls in Australian and Russian press to that effect. However, MacArthur understood that for the transition to be smooth, the imperial rule must persist. Yet, he didn’t make the customary call to the palace; instead, he waited for the emperor to make the first contact. On 27th September, Hirohito finally crossed the palace moat to reach MacArthur’s headquarters at the Dai-Ichi Life Insurance Company – requisitioned for its relative intactness and its proximity to both the palace and the American embassy. In The Man Who Saved Kabuki, Shin Okamoto wrote: MacArthur greeted the emperor at the entrance to the reception room, shaking his hand and saying, ‘You are very, very welcome sir.’ The emperor kept bowing lower and lower until MacArthur found himself shaking hands with him over the emperor’s head. Only the emperor, MacArthur and Okamura, the interpreter went into the reception room. Then the door to the reception room was opened and Lt. Gaetano Faillace, of the military camera corps, took a now famous photograph of the emperor and MacArthur from outside the room.” Faillace was given one shot, but he spoke up and asked for three. Faillace also adviced MacArthur against a seated picture on a soft couch. First two photos were less than ideal — their eyes were closed in one, and the Emperor’s mouth was gaping open in the other. But even the perfect, final shot posed its own problems: at this juncture, Hirohito was still akitsumikami or manifest deity (he would not renounce his divinity before the coming New Year’s Day), and everyone was supposed to avert eyes from the veiled imperial portraits in government buildings.Thus, printing the photo was deemed sacrilegious, not least because of the general’s extremely casual attire and his even more pointed body language. MacArthur’s office itself had to intervene to Japanese censors to have it printed. It ran on 29th September. He had to intervene again when the photo appeared in the New York Times alongside an unprecedented interview with the Emperor — where he criticized his government on failing to declare war on US before Pearl Harbour — and police tried to confiscate the papers. Outside Japan, too, the general’s informal appearance shocked many. Even Life clutched its pearls and wrote, “MacArthur did not trouble to put on a tie for the occasion”. As for the contents of their 40-minute tete-a-tete, nothing was made public; the two men would meet 10 more times during MacArthur’s sojourn as the American Proconsul. The general never paid a return call to the palace.A faction of the Japanese people believed Hirohito was forced into the meeting, but the Tenno Emperor asked MacArthur for the meeting. Hirohito was key to the smooth transition from militaristic autocratic government into a Western-style democracy. MacArthur said after the meeting that Hirohito was "a sincere man and a genuine liberal," high praise from the General. Hirohito's evaluation of MacArthur remain unclear, but he published poems in newspapers subtly encouraging the Japanese public to cooperate with the occupation. Hirohito visited MacArthur twice per year until MacArthur's retirement. His endorsement of Supreme Command Allied Powers (SCAP) directives afforded the Americans the stamp of legitimacy in a country conditioned to Imperial deference.