As the US pivoted its great war effort from Europe to the Pacific, in early 1945 it came face to face with a startling fact - it was waging war against a god. Its sea armada had already crushed his island outworks. Its planes were pulverizing his cities. Now its armies were preparing to invade the sacred soil of his homeland. To the god's worshipers this would be a sacrilege such as the desecration of a church would be to the invaders. The great US military redeployment from West to East was aimed directly at the myth of the divine Mikado, ruling a divine nation on the warpath.
The Sun Goddess' great-great-grandson, Jimmu, became Japan's first emperor in the year 660 BC. He commanded his descendants to bring all the eight corners of the universe under the one roof of Japan. Thus, began the divine dynasty whose 124th scion was the Emperor Hirohito, the Magnanimous-Exalted, the Sublime Majesty, the Imperial Son of Heaven of Dai Nippon (Great Japan), in whose reign the Japanese nation was fated to attempt to carry out the Emperor Jimmu's command. It was forbidden for his subjects to look at his face, address him by name, or speak to him from a greater height.
In the Meiji Constitution, the emperor was sovereign and was the locus of the state's legitimacy. The preamble stated, "The rights of sovereignty of the State, We have inherited from Our Ancestors, and We shall bequeath them to Our descendants." Concerning the issue of the attack on Pearl Harbor, both Naval Chief of General Staff and Prime Minister Tojo admitted having consulted with Emperor Hirohito, at which Tojo expressed confidence in the result. Then the Presiding Judge Webb commented: "The Emperor then directed that the program be carried out. . . It will remain that the men who advised the commission of a crime, if it be one, are in no worse position than the man who directs the crime be committed." In spite of much he tried to defend Hirohito's innocence, Tojo was obliged to confess that "the Emperor had consented, though reluctantly, to the war" and that "none of us would dare act against the Emperor's will."
From the documents of the General Headquarters of the Army and Navy released by the Japan Defense Administration after the war, some logical conclusions can be easily drawn as follows: (1) All major campaigns, such as those of "August 13" of Shanghai, Wuhan, Changsha, Burma, and "Ichigo" had been meticulously studied by Hirohito before he ordered them to be carried out with his blessings; (2) the appointment or dismissal of a division commander (a division usually having the strength of 16,000 to 22,500 men) must have had the approval of Emperor Hirohito and, more often than not, he would have an audience with the appointee before being announced; and (3) any maneuver of troops above the divisional level and a new division being established had to have his approval.
The Japanese Government indicated it would accept the Potsdam Declaration on the understanding that it would not include any demands prejudicing the prerogatives of the Emperor as a sovereign ruler, so as to preserve the kokutai, or national polity through "a line of Emperors unbroken for ages eternal." In response to this, the Allied Powers stated their position as "the authority of the Emperor...to rule the state shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers" and "the ultimate form of Government of Japan shall...be established by the freely expressed will of the Japanese people." At the Imperial Conference on August 14, 1945, the acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration was decided and in the "Imperial Rescript of the Termination of the War", the Emperor stated that "the kokutai has been maintained." The meaning of the national polity [kokutai] to him was not the welfare of the Japanese public, but the status of emperor and the Imperial Family.
On 15 August 1945, the Showa Emperor addressed the nation, saying "To ensure the tranquillity of the subjects of the Empire and share with all the countries of he world the joys of coprosperity, such is the rule that was left to Us by the Founder of the Empire of Our Illustrious Ancestors, which We have endeavored to follow. Today, however, the military situation can no longer take a favorable turn, and the general tendencies of the world are not to our advantage either.... "
As signs of defeat gradually emerged in the latter half of the Pacific War, those close to Hirohito began shifting war responsibility to the Gunbatsu [the military and naval leadership]. They worried about the possibility of blame being placed on Hirohito and the entire imperial system. In the post-War Tokyo Tribunal, Hirohito was one notable absentee from the prisoner's dock. Under the pre-war Japanese system he would seem to be as great a conspirator against world peace as any of his Ministers, Generals or Admirals. But the Emperor was granted immunity in the interests of the Allied Powers. That put the question of his guilt or innocence outside the province of the Tribunal.
In the postwar constitution, the emperor's role in the political system was drastically redefined. A prior and important step in this process was Emperor Hirohito's 1946 New Year's speech, made at the prompting of MacArthur, renouncing his status as a divine ruler. Hirohito declared that relations between the ruler and his people cannot be based on "the false conception that the emperor is divine or that the Japanese people are superior to other races."
In the first article of the new constitution, the newly "humanized" ruler is described as "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power." The authority of the emperor as sovereign in the 1889 constitution was broad and undefined. His functions under the postwar system are narrow, specific, and largely ceremonial, confined to such activities as convening the Diet, bestowing decorations on deserving citizens, and receiving foreign ambassadors (Article 7). He does not possess "powers related to government" (Article 4). The change in the emperor's status was designed to preclude the possibility of military or bureaucratic cliques exercising broad and irresponsible powers "in the emperor's name"--a prominent feature of 1930s extremism. The constitution defines the Diet as the "highest organ of state power" (Article 41), accountable not to the monarch but to the people who elected its members.
The use of the Japanese word shocho, meaning symbol, to describe the emperor is unusual and, depending upon one's viewpoint, conveniently or frustratingly vague. The emperor is neither head of state nor sovereign, as are many European constitutional monarchs, although in October 1988 Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed, controversially, that the emperor is the country's sovereign in the context of its external relations. Nor does the emperor have an official priestly or religious role. Although he continues to perform ancient rituals, such as ceremonial planting of the rice crop in spring, he does so in a private capacity.
Laws relating to the imperial house must be approved by the Diet. Under the old system, the Imperial Household Law was separate from and equal with the constitution. After the war, the imperial family's extensive estates were confiscated and its finances placed under control of the Imperial Household Agency, part of the Office of the Prime Minister and theoretically subject to the Diet. In practice remains a bastion of conservatism, its officials shrouding the activities of the emperor and his family behind a "chrysanthemum curtain" (the chrysanthemum being the crest of the imperial house) to maintain an aura of sanctity. Despite knowledge of his illness among the press corps and other observers, details about the late Emperor Hirohito's state of health in 1988 and 1989 were tightly controlled. The use of the masculine pronoun to describe the emperor is appropriate because the Imperial Household Law still restricts the succession to males, despite the fact that in earlier centuries some of Japan's rulers had been females.
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