Term Paper: Roles of Japanese Emperors

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[. . .] "No action of the leaders of the early Meiji period was productive of happier results than this" he adds (Treat, 1928 p. 101). By 1872, the issue of foreign treaties assumed increasing importance with regard to Japan's foreign relations over the next 22 years (Treat, 1928).

The research shows that the Meiji era originally brought an opening of women's horizons and great hope for bettering the quality of women's lives, as well as the lives of the whole population Meiji's roles for the populace were initially ill defined and were ultimately manufactured by his keepers (the genro et al.) to be the "father of the people" -- a paternal symbol, a warrior leader and spiritual figurehead. His close advisor's actions are key in this argument. His role for his keepers was as, initially, a political tool used to carve out power an authority for the new, fledgling government and eventually once governmental authority was solidified and operational he was used first and foremost for propaganda (not necessarily negative) in the creation maintenance of "national sprit." In the final analysis, Meiji himself, however, was a strong and intelligent character. His personal attributes should not be underestimated despite his circumstances. In fact, this era was characterized by a number of important social and political initiatives.

For example, in 1889, a constitution that assigned sovereignty to the emperor was adopted and a parliament (with limited male franchise, called the Diet), was established. The Diet was comprised of two houses (the "House of Peers, which was composed of members from the newly established system of nobility, and the House of Representatives; however, the actual power was held by a close knit group of court advisers, an oligarchy that came to be known as the genro ("the elder statesmen") (Hane, 1996).

The Japanese national economy steadily developed and prospered during the Meiji years, and by the turn of the 20th century, Japan had joined the international community as a modern industrial nation. According to Hane, the most impressive gains were realized in the textile industry, with Japan assuming a leading role as one of the world's major producers of silk; further, mining, the iron industry, shipbuilding and other strategic industries were all promoted by the Japanese government.

According to Hane, "Commercial, financial, and industrial enterprises became concentrated in the holdings of a handful of major companies, and conglomerates known as zaibatsu (financial cliques) eventually dominated the economy" (1996 p. 5). At the time, the Mitsui and Mitsubishi companies secured monopolistic control over critical segments of the Japanese economy; however, the typical Japanese worker continued to be subjected to low wages, long hours, and harsh working conditions (Hane, 1996). In addition, the government, in support of influential big businesses, moved to restrict any effort to effectively organize any type of labor union. While the process of industrialization was ongoing, the country still remained predominantly agrarian, and the peasants remained impoverished, with the percentage of tenant farmers continuously rising. During the early period of the Meiji era, 20% of the land was farmed by tenant farmers; indeed, this figure increased to 45% by 1910 and by the mid-1940s, fully 70% of the farmers were tenant farmers or were renting part of their farmland. "Poverty compelled many poor workers and farmers to sell their daughters to houses of prostitution, whose existence was legal in prewar Japan" (Hane, 1996 p. 5). It became increasingly clear by the end of the Meiji emperor's reign that political rulers in Japan no longer enjoyed the luxury of ignoring the power of elected representatives in the Diet, and that one party above all, the Seiy-kai, had crafted a cohesive system that was able to control a majority of Diet representatives (Gordon, 2003).

Taisho. Taisho's roles are a bit problematic for contemporary analysts. His physical and mental ill health reduced him to being a caretaker emperor, during a socially transitional period. The myths and scaffolding propping up Meiji's roles were maintained as best and for as long as possible until his son, Hirohito, assumed the throne as regent -- prior to Taisho's death. Taisho's "roles" in the "Taisho democracy" were characterized by a number of critical episodes, the impact of which would not be felt until later in the 20th century (Gordon, 2003). According to this author:

From its founding in 1900 through 1912 the Seiy-kai was the only effective political party in the national Diet. At this point, the greatest political confrontation since the inauguration of Diet politics in 1890 took place. It unfolded just months after the death of the Meiji emperor in July 1912, which began the reign of his son, the Taish? emperor. The political battle that began that autumn was aptly labeled the 'Taish? political crisis.' (p. 129).

While there were a number of controversies emerging during this period in Japanese history, the major political battle that confronted Emperor Taish? took place in November 1912 when Prime Minister Saionji faced increasing pressure from the army to provide resources for two new divisions, at a minimum, as part of a larger plan to expand the military; this initiative had already been approved by the Japanese government in general terms in 1906; however, the prime minister wanted to constrain government expenses and refused funding for the two new divisions. In response, Gordon reports that the minister of the army resigned in protest and the military refused to supply a replacement (by law, the ministers of the army or navy had to be active duty officers). "Unable to form a cabinet, Saionji resigned" (Gordon, 2003 p. 129). Following the Taish? political crisis of 1913, demands for a "constitutional government" for Japan won a firm majority in the Diet election of 1924 (Gordon, 2003).

Showa (formerly Hirohito). Hirohito's roles are numerous and complicated; encompassing the periods of "Taisho democracy," militarism, imperialism war and total defeat. Like his grandfather, Hirohito was strong and intelligent character. In my research, his role as a warrior and imperialist emperor are foci, however, his role as a "god," a descendent of the "sun goddess" and how this role was used in social repression as well as military expansion are central to the thesis "the people" were led astray by spiritual falsehoods, knowingly imposed by political and military maneuvers.

In his essay, "Emperor Hirohito: The God Who Fell to Earth," Lamont-Brown (2001) suggests that, "Hirohito is not an easy candidate for biography. He was not fond of the company of others; he was a reticent speaker, wary of revealing his inner thoughts; he wrote no personal reminiscences and until the post-war years was unknown as a flesh and blood person to his teeming subjects" (p. 49). Nevertheless, until the end of World War II in 1945, Emperor Hirohito was regarded as a living god and he remains an interesting as well as complex political figure in 20th century Japanese and international history (Lamont-Brown, 2001). Hirohito's reign began in 1926, when Japan was once again concerned with the country's status with, and for, China; his rule continued throughout World War II and thereafter; however, even before the war had ended, Hirohito and his aides had been creating a defense for him in case he was called before the War Crimes Tribunal, which the Japanese high command believed to be inevitable (Lamont-Brown, 2001). According to this author:

From the 1920s, the complete involvement of Hirohito with the emergent Japanese war machine was known to dissident watchers in Japan. To the world he proclaimed that he was a constitutional monarch. After all, his aides pointed out, he had only intervened twice in Japanese politics, once in 1936 to confound an attempted coup by young army officers and again in August 1945 to force surrender. (Lamont-Brown, 2001 p. 49).

In reality, though, Hirohito's role in the nation's political affairs was more pronounced; for example, his aides had assisted the military cadre in achieving enormous political influence and squashing opposition to the militarist government that would take place with the installation of General Hideki Tojo. According to Lamont-Brown, "Hirohito was at the centre of a new wave of the kodo, an 'imperial way' of emperor-based nationalism that would be xenophobic and racialist and lead to policies of genocide and imperial expansion to promote Hakko Ichiu, 'The whole world under one roof,' that is Japanese world domination under the Emperor" (p. 50). In spite of the continued expression of a sense of comparability with the English monarchy by Emperor Hirohito (Bix, 2000), Dobson and Hook report that "the legitimation in terms of the uninterrupted lineage unaffected by regicide was quite alien to the English counterpart. This myth of perpetual continuity transcending political vicissitudes served to exempt the Emperor from political accountability" (p. 24). This defense was the very same one used by General MacArthur to dilute the increasing amount of Western criticism being directed… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Roles of Japanese Emperors."  Essaytown.com.  August 19, 2005.  Accessed June 20, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/roles-japanese-emperors/421004.