The Japanese monarchy and nationalist politics, past and present
I am opening a new thread here because the discussion in the current events thread for Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko is getting OT.
I think it worthwhile to open a special thread for this subject as the wish or the need to discuss it might arise again from time to time. At least according to my impression, the Japanese monarchy is unique among present-day monarchies in so far as it is still seen by some people (inside and outside of Japan) as a symbol of an ultranationalist political stance and is claimed to justify and legitimate ultranationalist and maybe even antidemocratic political goals. On the other hand, the present as well as (predictably) the next emperor clearly refuse to support such goals. It is probable that this silent dissent will become visible again in the far and near future as it has already influenced Japanese politics as well as the personal life of imperial family members during past decades.
Well, in my world it is a bit ironic to say that the emperor “is not tainted with nationalistic family ties“. After all, everything that was done during the war and the colonization has been performed in the name of the emperor and the imperial institution. Quite a few people thought that Emperor Hirohito should have been executed as war criminal, and, in fact, this might well have happened. It is true that, after the war, the Japanese claimed that the emperor had been unaware of what was really going on, and the US occupation authorities trusted them - which is why nobody from the imperial family has ever been convicted. But there is good reason to believe that the emperor knew more and bore more responsibility for what happened than was ever officially admitted (albeit it is a matter of historical debate how much he exactly knew and how much power he actually had). I happen to think that the difference between Emperor Hirohito and many (other) war criminals (not only from Japan) does not lie so much in the amount of guilt they bore, but in how they dealt with this guilt.
Emperor Hirohito had been raised in a way that was, on one hand, very militaristic, and, on the other hand, rather removed from everyday life of ordinary people. This may have seriously impacted his ability to interpret the information that was given to him by his advisers. He may have seen war as sort of a strategic game that Japan had a very good chance of winning. It is possible that, for quite some time, he had but a faint idea of what war really felt like – to the soldiers, the families, the innocent victims. This was probably changed at some point towards the end of the war, maybe when he was informed of the strategic bombing raids that the Allied Forces conducted on Japan. Besides, I suppose that Emperor Hirohito must have realized in the end that nobody had ever bothered to make it clear to him that Japan actually MIGHT LOSE THIS WAR. In my opinion, this, more than anything else, convinced him that he could no longer rely on his advisers. I, for one, doubt that Hirohito was a moralist. But he was – unlike most of his advisers, I´d reckon – a pragmatist. He never lost his ability to perceive – maybe due to his attitude as natural scientist – what actually did and what did not work, independently of his wishes or personal feelings. He understood that the nationalist politics that had led Japan into the war did – obviously – not work in the best interest of the nation. And so he decided that they had been wrong and ought not be continued.
Nationalists – like other people who passionately believe in a certain ideology of whatever sort – tend to be dreamers (although they´d never admit it ;)) and rather often refuse to face reality if it happens to disagree with what they aspire to or believe in. They may go to great lengths in order to defend their belief system. (For people who are not familiar with this system their behaviour often seems completely absurd.) It is this characteristic trait that makes them so dangerous. But it is not that hard to understand them if you come to think about it. Most people do not like to give up their hopes, their dreams. And nearly everybody wants to think himself a good person. You will find many people – today and in the past – concerning whom we would probably all agree that they are/were bad. But if you asked them themselves, they would (with very, very few exceptions) always tell you that they are good people and have the best of intentions, and what is more, they would believe this themselves (or would, at least, do their very best to believe
Besides, there are always strong bonds of love and loyalty in a family. You probably know what a big problem it is to take children away from criminal, abusing, addictive parents, even if it is absolutely necessary to save the children´s very lives. Little children love their parents no matter what. If you ask, “Is the fear of losing face greater than the fear of letting the nutcases take over?“, this is clearly the reasoning of an adult. But the dynamics that matter here are neither rational nor mature.
Things gets even worse by the fact that, also today, tradition plays an important role in the world view of the Japanese. Japanese usually invoke ancient traditions or forerunners to justify present actions or projects. It is true that, if you look closer, you will sometimes find that the planned project does not bear much similarity to what was done in the past or even that a so-called tradition is made up or over to fit the needs of today. But this does not prevent it from being presented as an authentic tradition and people from confidently claiming it as justification for what they are doing today. To my knowledge, there is no accepted pattern in Japan that would allow you to say: "All we did in the past was wrong, and now we are starting all over again and are doing things in a completely different way." - something that, if you excuse me for saying that ;), US Americans, for example, at times seem to love to be doing.
Please, do not take me wrong: Generally speaking, one behavioural pattern is not any better than the other. But within certain contexts and under certain circumstances either one may turn out to be rather detrimental (which admittedly also goes for a tendency to part from the past too easily and without a last look back, but this is not what we are discussing here.)
I have to add that, being German, I think I can understand at least part of the Japanese problem very well indeed. They did not have a national anthem nor a flag for decades because the old ones were tainted by the use that had been made of them. This is admittedly an impossible situation for a country. It was inevitable that they would come back to the old flag and anthem, however compromised they may be, sooner or later - if they did not get themselves new ones. Maybe because of a general tendency to put off fundamental decisions, they have unfortunately failed to do that. And, of course, this is not only about flag and anthem. I am afraid that they may have failed to find a new definition of who they are as Japanese and what basic values they want to follow. I have read an excerpt of Vogel, Ezra F.: “Japan's New Middle Class: The Salary Man and His Family in a Tokyo Suburb”. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971, and he says:
The crucial point is, in my opinion, that you can only let go of an old value system for good – however tainted it may be - if you have a new one to substitute it with. I am convinced that people/nations cannot live without a set of generally accepted values that serve to inform themselves and the world of who they are. That is, in a nutshell, why I am convinced that the emperor and the crown prince are a godsend and big chance for Japan: they think for themselves and stand for what I would call a Japanese version of democratic enlightened values.
P.S.: I know next to nothing about Attila the Hun. But is not it a rather common phenomenon that passionate nationalists usually crave to conquer the whole world? ;)
Thanks, ChiaraC :flowers:
Your posts are as always informative.
Oh, I can easily understand why people go into denial in regards to their country or even family's past. - It is, also on a personal level, usually very unpleasant to look at yourself in the mirror and look into your soul. Much easier to just close the eyes.
I can also understand the resurgence of Japanese pride in it's national identity and culture. Fully justifiable by the way - but so easily exploited.
National symbols are important. They sure are to me.
Your remarks about Emperor Hirohito is interesting, because it is indeed intriquing to what extent he was informed. It is obvious, at least to me, that he towards the end of the war did not share the militaristic sentiment, hence the famous vote on whether to capitulate after Nagasaki. In a sense you can say it saved Japan from an even greater calamity. - Mainly from being bombed with more A-bombs. But just as disastrously, (perhaps even more!) were the three plans for defeating Japan with conventional means. - But that's getting OT in this respect.
I must confess that I'm not familiar with Emperor Hirohito's education and upbringing and what persons may have influenced him early on. It seems to me that he was presented to more diverse views than certainly the government hardliners. Especially the generals whose adherance to the code of Bushido had reached hysterical heights.
If you compare Japanese warware in WWII to WWI and the war against Russia in 1905, you will see that the military leadership had a much less extreme view. Presumably, is my guess, because so many Japanese young officers and eventually politicians had studied abroad.
I find the Japanese sense of conforming almost no matter what, to be very, very fascinating, because that sort of thinking is very alien to me, both as a person but also as a Dane. (*)
You are of course right, it's deviants, those who stand out, who make the big changes, for better or for worse. The big grey anonymous mass cement the changes however.
The cynic within me says: free us from idealists! A lot of mess in this world was, and is, done with the best of intensions. From missionaries who destroyed native cultures to the Mussollinis.
What does baffle me however, is the ordinary Japanese. Even one who is mainly getting informed via purely Japanese news sources and who rarely travel abroad, surely should be able to understand that a continuation of the nationalist policy is playing with fire?
On a final note. ;) Attilla the Hun was indeed a Hun, but he was no nationalist. He was basically a super-warlord, whose band consisted of several peoples/tribes and several cultures and languages, (who in many cases would have spoken Latin simply to understand eachother) all more or less on equal footing. And that lack of a common identity was of course the reason why the Hun-empire collapsed almost the second he died.
In that respect he's comparable, albeit much more beneficial, to Tamerlane/Timur Lenk, who was also a kind of non-nationalist conqueror.
(*) Slightly off topic but nevertheless illuminating for showing how much difference there can be in the mentality between two closely related countries. I recently read a very interesting article about why Swedes have a very feminist official policy, while such a policy would be met with ridicule and pulic uproar in Denmark. The author believed because in this context, womens liberation in Sweden came from the top and down, while it in DK was implemented from the grassroot level and up.
In Sweden womens rights is a very serious thing, while in DK it's something we can joke about and speak against.
Example in regards to a common joke: Three persons, two men and a women are fixing a door and having a quality time together. Man A says: "That's a tight fit".
Man B responds: "She said that yesterday too".
Woman C burst out: "You sexist b....."!
What remark ruined the mood?
A Swede is very likely to say B.
Most Danes would say C. - According to the author.
I cannot help wondering whether current Japanese politics and nationalist politicians would survive in a Japan where the rebirth of national pride came from the grassroot level and up.
- And I wonder if this even made sense to you....:tongue:
Thank you, Muhler. :flowers: It is a real pleasure for me to talk to you because you so often seem to understand the implications of what I say, even if I have not expressly mentioned them. Besides, it seems to me that we sometimes have a similar way of formulating questions concerning the world and human life. And in case you should actually not know: your posts so far have always made complete sense to me. ;)
I have read a lot about the Japanese monarchy in the present time. But when I talk about its past, what I say is usually rather an impression, an impression that is based on facts, but not on all facts that are available. That means that my opinion may change when I learn new facts. What I said about Hirohito´s education is mainly based on what I know about his foster father, elderly Count Sumiyoshi Kawamura, a former admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy, and about the headmaster of the Peers School that Hirohito later attended, General Maresuke Nogi.
Hirohito, at the age of two months, was handed over to Count Kawamura and his wife Countess Haruko. Kawamura had been very hesitant to accept this task, supposedly because of his advanced age, but at last promised to do his “duty.” One year later, Hirohito´s younger brother Yasuhito (later Chichibu) was born and joined him at the old admiral´s home. The two princes passed their first years in an atmosphere that was as homespun as it was ascetic. Kawamura´s favoured method of disciplining the often mischievous Hirohito was to threaten to declare Prince Chichibu the “senior” prince in the house. When Hirohito was only three years old, the admiral died at age 67. Later, from the age of seven, Hirohito´s education was supervised by the headmaster of the Peers School, General Maresuke Nogi, a popular national hero who would become one of the major influences on Hirohito’s life. When Hirohito was eleven, his grandfather, the Meiji Emperor died. On the day of the emperor’s funeral, as the guns marking the departure of his coffin were fired from the imperial palace, Count Nogi sliced open his abdomen and his wife plunged a dagger into her throat in the traditional precept of Japanese ritual suicide, seppuku, by which the couple followed the emperor into death.
In his suicide letter, the general said that he wished to expiate for having lost a banner of the emperor in a battle, and for the fact that when he captured Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War, he had lost, from his point of view, too many soldiers. That may be all well and good. But the general´s wife bore certainly no responsibility whatsoever for any of these incidents. Still, it was obviously taken for granted that she would willingly die with her husband. There is a photo that was taken of Nogi and his wife on the day of their death. (scroll down) On it, the poor soul looks to me terribly scared. :sad: I have to openly confess that general Maresuke Nogi does not have my sympathies, nor do I believe his influence on Hirohito´s personality to have been very beneficial.
And those Japanese who do understand the danger will probably hesitate to inform their fellow countrymen of it: it is very impolite in Japan to say something disagreeable or something that might make your conversation partner uneasy... :ermm:
Thank you for the example that illustrates the difference between the Danish and the Swedish attitude! I am not familiar with the differences between the two countries and have to admit that I would not have understood your general explanation without the example. :confused:
Although this has probably not been your intention, it is also a brilliant example for the fact that, for me, it totally depends on the atmosphere and the context what sort of boundaries are necessary. It is very hard to find a general rule there. “It's not what you say, but how you say it.” Depending on who says it in which way, I might find remark B either degrading and sexist, or witty and charming. And, in my opinion, it can be used both ways. As a bottom line, I think you could say, the safer you feel in general in the environment you are in, the more you can afford to allow jokes. So, your example does make a lot of sense in the frame of top-down via grassroot change, if you assume (which I would do) that the grassroot change is usually more reliable and sustainable.
And, yes: a rebirth of national pride in Japan from the grassroot level would be great. But unfortunately from what I know so far I think it is hardly realistic.
On the other hand, all the emperor can actually do, politically powerless as he is, is to serve as symbol and maybe sort of a “trend setter” to ordinary Japanese who can refer themselves to his statements and actions - if they choose. Which would amount to being sort of a grassroot movement.
Well, it is not forbidden to dream, is it? :ermm:
You are most kind, ChiaraC :smile:
I find your description of the important persons in Emperor Hirohitos early upbringing to be absolutely fascinating!
These important persons died in his early childhood, that must have made some impact.
Do you happen to know about his schooling and later education in his teens?
The story about Maresuke Nogi and his wife is hardly surprising. That was in complete accordance with the ancient ways of the samurai, not to be confused with Bushido - the code of the warrior.
At the storming of Port Arthus he would have seen many of his batallion and regimental commanders die, because Bushido dictated that they led from the front. And even though he would have felt an immense pride, it would have been mixed with some sadness as well, as quite a few of the staff officers, who died, would have been proteges and sometimes sons of personal friends. I.e. people he would have been familar with.
He followed the ancient code of committing seppuko when his "daimyo", i.e. the Emperor died. - A thing that was both admired and frowned upon at the same time thorughout the centuries as many, also among the new daimyos, considered it a terrible waste of experience and talent.
That his wife should follow her husband is almost a matter of course. As a samurai (I don't know if she and her husband descended from the abolished samurai class or the newly created officers caste) she would have considered her husband her lord and she would naturally have followed him in death. - Had she been younger, been a mother of infants or had a lower social status, she might very well not have committed seppuku but rather been expected to remarry.
Bushido - the Way of the Warrior, is something I have referred to a couple of times and it's essential to understanding the behavior of the Japanese military, from the lowest conscript to the higest ranking generals.
In that you are honor bound to do your utmost to achieve your goals or die trying. There is nothing inbetween! You simply cannot yield or retreat, that would a failure and a loss of face. Surrender is impossible! Doing so you are no longer a soldier, you are no longer Japanese, you are hardly human - your disgrace is complete.
That explains the extremely low rate of Japanese soldiers who were captured alive during WWII.
It also explains the attrocities committed, because people who surrendered or civillians who had submitted, had completely lost face, they were to be treated with disregard - they deserved no better.
Also, according to a psycologist I read about, the behavior of Japanese soldiers, a behavior that was tolerated and to a considerable extent encouraged by senior officers, can very simply be attributed to lack of social control.
In other words, back home in Japan, the soldiers were a part of a society where there was a lot of social control. Quarters of cities in many ways functioned as villages, everybody knew everybody else and that put a damper on any undesired behavior. But in China, there were no such limitations, they were among fellow soldiers who thought like themselves, led by officers who believed their soldiers deserved "a little fun". The Chinese civillians were subjects, people who had lost face. - They ought to have committed suicide rather than become subjects - So they were treated as subhumans.
This is something I know abput first hand, because the behavior in Japan can in many ways be compared to the atrocities in Ex-Jugoslavia. Except that those who mainly committed atrocities in Jugoslavia were not long-serving sodiers but ordinary men who suddenly had the power to do what they wanted, without any moral, legal or social restraint.
Your comparison of the military high command towards the end of WWII to Hitler is very apt indeed.
Hitler's vision was a kind of apocalyptic suicide, a Götterdämmerung (spl?). The Japanese generals had a similar vision. Capitulation or even yielding is impossible - except to save the Emperor and Japan. More on that in a moment. Their in my eyes completely insane and irrational vision was that all Japanse, tens of millions of them, should fight to the death or commit suicide. It was their durty, their debt (giri) to Japan and the Emperor.
The Allied terms of unconditional surrender was as such, according to the code of Bushido, completely unacceptable! A ceasefire, yes. A peace, where Japanese soil would not be tainted by foreign soldiers and where the Emperor was saved, yes. Unconditional surrender, impossible! That's an irretrivable loss of face.
I think one solution for Japan, could be for Japanese high school students in particular and pupils in general to travel outside Japan and to become exchange students on a much systematic level than now.
Because the adults are a lost cause, I think. It's the youth that needs to see the world and learn about the world from different perspectives.
Your comments on the Swedish Danish mentality example is interesting to me, but it's actually more subtle than that.
A Danish woman who reacted to an admittedly not very funny, but still very common, remark like that, would be looked at in disbelief by Danes. She would seen as overreacting and taking herself too serious, not to mention being too sensitive - which is something you shouldn't be in Denmark, as we a infamous for being very direct. I would lose a little respect for such a woman, - in Asian terms she would lose face.
In Sweden they adhere to political correctness, you do not utter opinios that are too controversial. While we in DK positively revel in political incorrectness! It's the rebellious mentality that stems from social changes often being made from the grassroot level and up and such changes naturally tend to be rebellious and in the beginning non-conforming.
The Japanese concept of not saying anything that would make others feel uneasy, is also pretty alien in DK, where we sometimes pride ourselves in speaking our mind, except for some considerations. I.e. politeness, not to start a conflict and most crucial not to hurt anyone's feelings (if we like that person, that is).
So this is very much a learning process for me. :smile: And for that I thank you.
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