In This Review

The Yamato Dynasty: The Secret History of Japan's Imperial Family
The Yamato Dynasty: The Secret History of Japan's Imperial Family
By Sterling Seagrave and Peggy Seagrave
394 pp, Broadway Books, 2000

Nominally a biography of the Japanese imperial family since the Meiji restoration of 1868, this sensational book really focuses on World War II, especially Emperor Hirohito's complicity in Japanese war plans in China after 1931 and in the Pacific in 1941-45. Also highlighted are the efforts by leading Japanese and American moneyed interests -- with General MacArthur's approval and cooperation -- to help cover up both Hirohito's wartime activities and his family's role in the extensive looting by Japanese forces during the war. The authors suggest that the extensive loot, mainly gold and gemstones, laid the basis for Japan's remarkable postwar economic recovery. Unfortunately, they fail to indicate exactly how these stolen goods (many of which remain unrecovered) could conceivably have played such a role. Some may have helped finance the emergence of the Liberal Democratic Party and its subsequent dominance of the Japanese political scene, which the authors see as thoroughly corrupt. Funds were also used, they write, to bribe the political opposition into political submission and officials into compliance. But none of this can explain the achievements of the Japanese economy, in which growth relied on continuing Japanese savings and investment, not on stolen gems. This account may, however, help explain strenuous old-guard resistance to necessary institutional changes. The book is a good read, but it drags in old rumors -- such as Franklin D. Roosevelt's alleged prior knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor -- without offering any new evidence or fresh Japanese sources. The full story of early postwar Japan remains to be told.