10 Facts About V-J Day | History Hit

10 Facts About V-J Day

Victory Carving-First Division Marines on Okinawa gather around Corporal John Dulin as he wields a Japanese samurai sword to cut a VJ cake that he baked for the celebration.
Image Credit: USMC Archives / CC

On 15 August 1945, imperial Japan finally announced their surrender to the United States, bringing an end to the Second World War. Known today as V-J Day (Victory over Japan Day), nations across the world commemorate this huge moment every year. Whilst for many it calls for celebration, V-J Day was far from uncontentious, and although it may have ended the Second World War, the ensuing settlements helped incite others. Here are 10 facts about V-J Day.

1. The name comes from VE Day

The war in Europe had ended on 8 May 1945, and it was known as ‘Victory in Europe’ day by the Allies: a recognition of the fact that elsewhere in the world, war still raged. The name V-J Day (or sometimes V-P Day) followed on from this, standing for Victory in Japan or Victory in the Pacific.

2. No on can agree precisely what caused surrender

Japan agreed to end hostilities and surrender, provided the Emperor could remain in place as head of state, on 10 August 1945, but it took another 5 days for this to be formalised.

Historians are split on the catalyst for imperial Japan’s surrender: some argue it was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the threat of complete annihilation by the Americans, whilst others cite the declaration of war by the Soviet Union. The addition of the Soviets attacking the Japanese from the west, whilst the United States attacked from the south and east would have proved too much to bear.

The second atomic strike on the city of Nagasaki is less well known than the one a few days earlier on Hiroshima, but was it more influential in forcing the Japanese to surrender? To find out who exactly ordered it and why I talked to Harvard's Frederik Logevall. He discusses the debates that rage between historians as to whether Nagasaki was necessary and how much pressure there was for a third bomb. On the 75th anniversary of the strike it is a conversation with powerful contemporary echoes.
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3. Japan had refused the Potsdam Declaration only a few weeks before

In late July 1945, the USSR, UK and USA participated in the Potsdam Conference where they decided how to carve up Europe and restore peace (as far as possible) following Germany’s surrender.

As part of the conference, they issued the Potsdam Declaration, which called for the surrender of all Japanese forces or face ‘prompt and utter destruction’ – a veiled warning for the American plans to drop atomic bombs on Japan should they refuse to surrender.

The Japanese government discussed and debated the terms of surrender laid out in the Potsdam Declaration, but believed they were too ambiguous and ultimately dishonourable.

4. The surrender announcement was the first time the emperor’s voice had been publicly broadcasted

Japan officially surrendered at 12 noon on 15 August 1945, when Emperor Hirohito broadcast an announcement to the Japanese people telling them that he had ordered his government to accept the ‘Joint Declaration’ and cede to the Allied powers.

This was the first time the Emperor’s voice had ever been broadcast to the nation and his use of Classical Japanese meant many of those who listened struggled to understand what was being said.

The lack of mention of the word ‘surrender’ explicitly was also deemed to be confusing, so straight after the Emperor’s announcement had been broadcast, a public service announcement stated that Japan was unconditionally surrendering to the Allies.

Emperor Hirohito visits Yokohama, 1946.

5. Soldiers were furious at the surrender announcement

Japanese military culture was deeply entrenched by the start of the Second World War and centred around the idea that the strength of the military was equal to the strength of the nation and that death was more honourable than surrender.

There were reports of soldiers committing suicide on hearing the declaration of surrender, whilst others simply burst into tears. Many felt betrayed by the Japanese government and Emperor. Others, especially civilians, simply went about their business and tried to carry on with their lives as best as they could.

6. V-J Day was celebrated in Europe as well as in America

V-J Day was not just victory in Japan, but it was also the end of the Second World War in all theatres. Due to the time difference, Japan’s surrender was announced to the American people at 7pm on 14 August 1945, sparking huge celebrations across the United States and in Europe.

Impromptu parties in Europe also sprang up: on Regent Street in London office workers threw handfuls of torn up paper out of the windows in celebration as a form of make-shift confetti.

7. Officially the surrender document was signed on 2 September 1945

Surrender was formalised when representatives from the Empire of Japan, including those representing the government and armed forces, stepped aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay in order to sign the Japanese Instrument of Surrender.

There were actually two copies of the Instrument of Surrender: one bound in leather for the Allied forces, and one canvas-backed copy for Japan. Representatives of the Allies were also on board.

The Japanese surrender took place on the American warship the USS Missouri on 2 September 1945.

Image Credit: Army Signal Corps / Public Domain

8. It took nearly another 7 years for the Treaty of San Francisco to come into effect

The Treaty of San Francisco, which formally ended the legal state of war between the Allied Powers and Japan, was signed in September 1951, and only came into force in April 1952.

The treaty also formally ended American occupation of Japan and restored full sovereignty to it and allocated compensation to those who suffered as a result of Japanese war crims, and ended.

9. Japan’s surrender remains a sensitive topic

Japan’s declaration of surrender signalled the end of Japanese colonial rule in the Korean peninsula, the end of its attempts to dominate and occupy the Asian mainland and China, and the waning of its influence in South East Asia.

However, this did not all happen smoothly. Former Japanese colonial administrators ended up being appointed by Americans to handle administration in Korea, and the deep ideological split between North and South Korea has proved to be a source of ongoing tension.

Others have refused to acknowledge Japan’s actions as illegitimate or aggressive, instead seeing them as acts of self-preservation which did not attempt to infringe on sovereignty or stability within the region as a whole. Contemporary politicians still have to walk a delicate line in commemorations today, acknowledging the suffering inflicted by Japan but also trying not to upset the more conservative factions of government.

10. Surrender was far from the end of proceedings

Following the official signing of the Instrument of Surrender, the Allies quickly began investigating Japanese war crimes. In April 1946, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, more commonly known as the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal began. 28 Japanese military and political leaders were charged with 55 separate counts of war crimes in total. The tribunal lasted 2.5 years.

Sarah Roller