The news media widely reported this week that Shinzo Abe will be the first Japanese prime minister to visit Pearl Harbor when he goes later this month — but he won’t be.
In 1951, then-Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida made a brief visit during a stopover in Hawaii on the way home from San Francisco, where he had signed a peace treaty with the Allied powers and other nations.
An Associated Press story dated Sept. 13, 1951, says Yoshida “yesterday paid the first official Japanese call on Pearl Harbor since Dec. 7, 1941.” It says he spent about 20 minutes there, and posed for photos with Adm. Arthur W.R. Radford, commander of the U.S. Pacific fleet.
Yomiuri, Japan’s largest newspaper, noted on Tuesday that it had written about Yoshida’s visit to Pearl Harbor in 1951.
The Japanese government confirmed that Yoshida was in Honolulu, but said there was no official record of him going to Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy base attacked by Japan in 1941.
The confusion sent officials scrambling to set the record straight. Experts at Japan’s diplomatic archives went through huge volumes of microfiche Thursday, looking for any evidence that Yoshida had set foot in Pearl Harbor, but came up empty.
Abe announced Monday that he would visit Pearl Harbor with U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 27 to pay respects to the war dead and send a message of reconciliation.
Both Japanese and international media, including The Associated Press, reported that it would be the first-ever visit by a sitting Japanese prime minister.
A Honolulu-dated Yomiuri article from 1951 says Yoshida looked “deeply moved when he visited Radford at Pearl Harbor.”
The same day, he also met Hawaii’s deputy governor and army commander, went for an afternoon walk and enjoyed souvenir shopping, the newspaper said.
En route to San Francisco, Yoshida also stopped in Hawaii and laid flowers at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, a military cemetery better known as Punchbowl, said Motosada Matano, a deputy Cabinet secretary for public affairs.
What exactly is first about Abe’s upcoming visit to Pearl Harbor, a reporter for the rival Asahi newspaper asked at a Foreign Ministry briefing Wednesday.
The USS Arizona Memorial hadn’t been built in 1951, so the official line is that Abe will be the first serving prime minister to make a visit to the Pearl Harbor memorial, Matano said.