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Kodo (Way of the Emperor)

The reputed date of the foundation of the Empire of Japan is 660 BC. Japanese historians ascribe to that date an Imperial Rescript said to have been issued by the first Emperor, Jimmu Tenno. In this document occur two classic phrases upon which there gradually accumulated a mass of mystical thought and interpretation. The first is Hakko Ichiu which meant the bringing together of the corners of the world under one ruler, or the making of the world one family. This was the alleged ideal of the foundation of the Empire; and in its traditional context meant no more than a universal principle of humanity, which was destined ultimately to pervade the whole universe.

The second principle of conduct was the principle of Kodo, a contraction for an ancient phrase which meant literally "The oneness of the Imperial Way". The way to the realisation of Hakko Ichiu was through the benign rule of the Emperor; and therefore the "way of the Emperor" -- the "Imperial" or the "Kingly way" -- was a concept of virtue, and a maxim of conduct. Hakko Ichiu was the moral goal; and loyalty to the Emperor was the road which led to it.

These two ideas were again associated with the Imperial dynasty after the Meiji Restoration. That Emperor proclaimed them in an Imperial rescript issued in 1871. They then represented an constitutional rallying-point, and an appeal to the patriotism of the Japanese people. In the decade before 1930, those Japanese who urged territorial expansion did so in the name of these two ideas. Again and again throughout the years that followed measures of military aggression were advocated in the names of Hakko Ichiu and Kodo which eventually became symbols for world domination through military force.

In 1924 a book was published by Dr. Shumei Okawa, which stated that, since Japan was the first state to be created, it was therefore Japan's divine mission to rule all nations. He advocated the Japanese occupation of Siberia and the South Sea Islands. In 1925 and thereafter, he predicted a war between East and West, in which Japan would be the champion of the East. He said that Japan should endeavour to fulfil that sublime mission by developing a strong moralistic spirit. He had organised a patriotic society, which advocated the liberation of the coloured races and the moral unification of the world. He had often, at the invitation of the Army General Staff, lectured to them along these lines. This Shumei Okawa is also the Shumei Okawa who translated the Quran into Japanese. He told the Japanese about Kemal Atatürk, the so-called father of Turkey. Shumei Okawa had a kind of sympathy for Islam and the Arab world, and understood Arab nationalism.

Okawa continued his propaganda campaign, with the assistance of members of the Army General Staff. He maintained that Manchuria must be separated from China and placed under Japanese control. Thus would be ended the domination of the white races over Asia, and in its place would be created a land founded upon the principle of the "kingly way", Japan would assume the leadership of the people of Asia; and would drive out the white races. Thus, as early as the year 1930, Kodo had come to mean Japanese domination of Asia, and a possible war with the West. Shumei Okawa had been Chief of East Asian Economic Survey Bureau and participated in the March and October coups of 1931, and the "September 18" Incident. He was jailed for the assassination of Premiere Tsuyoshi Inukai in 1932.

The "way of the Emperor" became also the way of military dictatorship. Okawa argued that the ready-made political parties must be swept away, and the Imperial dignity uplifted under military rule. This would be the work of the "Showa restoration". Under the Japanese constitution the War and Navy Ministers enjoyed direct access to the Emperor upon a footing of equality with the Premier. The Chiefs of Staff also were directly responsible to the Emperor; so there was historical warrant for the claim that the way of Kodo was the Army's way.

The Imperial Way Faction (kodoha) was a nationalist political formation that served as the political wing of the Japanese military. Seeking to establish a military government, it was mainly supported by junior officers of the Imperial Japanese Army. The "Imperial Way Faction" represented the principal right-wing political movement in the Empire of Japan from some point in the 1930s, emerging from a welter of similar groups and secret societies. In 1941, as a political party, it achieved the goal of real power. Its members led all political and military national efforts during the Pacific War. It was abolished, with the other nationalist organizations, by the Allied occupation authorities in 1945.

The 1920s had witnessed the departure of old-style samurai officers, and the emergence of a new radical tendency in the Japanese military. Officer groups, such as the Double Leaf Society, and other secret societies were formed around beliefs of ultranationalism and the need to purge the army of "corrupt" Choshu elements. Choshu domain, located at the western tip of Honshu, was ruled by the Mori family during the Edo period. During the Edo period, Choshu was prevented from a national role because the domain fought against the Tokugawa at the battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Choshu was one of the four domains which overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate and restored the Emperor to authority. Men from Choshu and Satsuma dominated government in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

During the 1920s, the civilian government largely managed to keep the radicals in the military in check. The civilian government retained control over the Imperial Japanese Navy, but this grip was weakening. Following the limits imposed by the Washington Armaments Conference of 1921, the Navy was split into two factions, the Fleet Faction and the Treaty Faction. The latter group prevailed initially.

In the army, the two major groups were the Tosei (Control) faction, of which Majo Gen Hideko Tojo was a prominent member, and which favored a strong army that did not mix into politics. The more radical Kodo (Imperial Way) group Kodaha (Imperial Benevolent Rule or Action Group), led by Colonel (later General) Sadao Araki, wanted a "restoration" with the Emperor acting as a god, free of political advisers, bureaucrats, and business interests, with the army as his main support. The Kodo faction was condemned not only by army headquarters but by the Emperor himself.

The Kodo group believed that the so-called "Showa Restoration" [cp. Meiji Restoration] could only be effected by means of riots and the call-out of troops. The fundamental principle which they respected was the role of the Emperor as an Absolute Being. In the Kodo view, the Japanese political scene could be cleaned up if only the villainous court retainers were eliminated. Figuratively speaking, after the clouds were gone, the sun could once again shine down. Fundamental to both factions, however, was the common belief that national defense must be strengthened through the reform of national politics.

The Imperial Way Group advocated the Strike-North policy while the Control Clique fought for the Strike-South policy. Although the Strike-South people were the minority in the establishment, they had the backing of the industrialists who had foreign interests in the South Seas; and by the priests of the imperial family who believe that Emperor Jimmu, the progenitor of the imperial family, had come from the south.

Osachi Hamaguchi replaced Tanaka Giichi as Prime Minister in 1928 and formed a new cabinet. Initial public confidence bolstered Hamaguchi's government, and he successfully challenged the military radicals, getting the London Naval Conference of 1930 treaty ratified. Hamaguchi was the target of an assassination attempt on 14 November 1930. The assassin was Tomeo Sagoya, a member of the Aikoku-sha (Love of Country Association), yet another ultranationalist secret sect. Hamaguchi survived but was hospitalized for several months. He returned to his post in March 1931 but resigned a month later.

Militarists and secret society members waged a war against every moderating voice heard in Japanese politics. Assassinations and coups were the rule of the day. Even when they failed, they wrung concessions. Secret societies flourished, and the Kwantung Army and the Kempeitai became largely autonomous.

In the increasingly chaotic political (and economic and social) situation, the military were considered politically "clean" in terms of political corruption, and assumed responsibility for 'restoring' the security of the nation. The armed forces increased criticism of the traditional democratic parties and regular government for many reasons (low funds for the armed forces, compromised national security, weakness of the leaders). They were also, by their composition, closely aware of the effects of economic depression on the middle and lower classes, and the communist threat.

Araki Sadao was an important figurehead and "political and thinking father" of the party; his first ideological works date from his leadership of the Kodaha (Imperial Benevolent Rule or Action Group), opposed by the Toseiha (Control Group) led by General Kazushige Ugaki. He linked the ancient (bushido code) and contemporary local and European fascist ideals (Japanese fascism), to form the ideological basis of the movement (Showa nationalism). From September 1932, the Japanese were becoming more locked into the course that would lead them into the Second World War and Araki was leading the way. Totalitarianism, militarism and expansionism were to become the rule and fewer voices would be able even to speak against it. In a 23 September 1932 news conference, Araki first mentioned the philosophy of "Kodoha" (The Imperial Way). The concept of Kodo linked the Emperor, the people, land and morality as one and indivisible. This led to the creation of a "new" Shinto and increased Emperor worship.

The "2-26" Incident of 1936 was caused by young officers influenced by the Kodo-ha. Taking advantage of the insurrection to crack down upon the Kodo faction, the Tosei-ha proceeded to purge the Army. They prohibited Army intervention in domestic politics, except through the agency of the Minister of War. Thereafter, cliquish factionalism began to abate; but the Tosei's purge failed completely in its basic purpose-to avert Army interference in the political scene. After the purge, in fact, the Army entered legitimately into political organizations and thereby finally established a terrific voice in domestic politics. On one hand, the Army was allied with officialdom and the elder statesmen; on the other, it could deal with the worlds of industry and of politics.

Military intervention in politics, and the resultant factional clashes of ideology, led to a second great transformation within the Army: the growing vogue of insubordination by lower-ranking officers [especially lieutenants, captains, and majors] against their superiors. The so-called young officers, cocky and conceited because of their very youth and alleged powers of execution, sometimes reproached the prudence of older officers. Not a few of the radicals committed outrages or upset military discipline. The military authorities, nevertheless, remained absorbed only with the doling out of appropriate rewards, while neglecting to mete out commensurate punishments. Certain key officers who most deserved severe punishment were mildly reproved or transferred to other posts, after which they were able to regain important assignments.

In the first day of the Tokyo Trial, when the indictments to the war criminals were announced, Shumei Okawa beat the head of Tojo. All charged against him were dropped after the conclusion of the Tokyo Trial in November 1948 and he was discharged from the mental hospital as mentally fit; he died nine years later.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:24:00 ZULU