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From WMC our Five College Radio in Amherst Massachusetts we present Japan 1868 through 1968. This year has been officially designated as the centennial of the beginning of the modernization of Japan and this is the fifth of a series of broadcasts with John M. Markey professor of government and vice dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Massachusetts. The title of today's broadcast is Japan and Emperor Hirohito Professor Maki. As I indicated in the previous broadcast the Emperor Tai show was incapacitated for the last few years of his life and a regent. The present Emperor Hirohito served in his stead. In a way this Regency constituted a will a kind of an historical transition or a transition and in an historical period I should say between the Thai show and the present show while periods. As
I indicated perhaps one of the outstanding carry terroristic acts of the rule of the Emperor tae show was the fact that Japan was finally accepted beyond any question as one of the great world powers of the time. On the other hand particularly in the economic field there began to develop signs that all was not well inside Japan and this was highlighted particularly by the very bad recession as a matter of fact it could be described as a depression that began in Japan shortly after the end of the First World War. And this was not only a reaction against the almost unnatural economic growth and development during the First World War but in a sense was a an indication of the unevenness of Japan's economic development. And beyond that a certain uneasiness in even us pardon me
in the development of this whole complicated process of modernization. Now to balance off these signs of difficulty in the economic sphere there were indications very hopeful indications in the early 1920s that perhaps Japan had made considerable strides in the direction of democracy. Something which was certainly not built into the plans for the modernization of Japan that had begun back around the year 1870. I would like to take a just a few moments to discuss very briefly what has come to be known as Thais show democracy not because it was significant in itself but because it provides very definitely a clue as to the decidedly non-democratic developments that were to carry to Japan's
history from roughly 930 down to the end of the Second World War. Now one thing that seems clear on the surface at least by roughly one thousand twenty was that political parties seem to have become established inside Japan as a growing part of the new political system. Or again perhaps. As an essential element of the whole process of political modernization. No political parties were one of the things. One of the institutions let me say that had been introduced into Japan as a part of the beginnings of modernization. There was nothing in previous Japanese history that at all resembled the modern political party. The first organizations that could be described as Japanese political parties appeared around the year
1875. So consequently by 19 20 there had been a development of more than 40 years inside Japan. This imported political institution the political party. Now Japan had had a system of suffering which only males suffer each from 1890 onward. Now initially this male suffrage was restricted restricted primarily because of a property qualification. That is in order to be eligible to vote they had to pay a certain amount in national to taxes. No the combined operation of the well the development of the political parties and the exercise of the franchise by at least a fraction and indeed a growing fraction of the Japanese male population resulted in the appearance inside
Japan of what was described at the time as responsible parliamentary government. Now one of the expressions of natural expressions I might add of this political growth inside Japan was the emergence again around 1920 of a political situation in which civilian groups inside Japan and specifically the leaders of the political parties were in control of the government. This meant that the military that is to say both generals and admirals who had long played a major role in Japanese government and politics were temporarily in Eclipse. Now this was another sign that made many people feel that the very strong current of what was then referred to as autocratic government was being diluted and diluted significantly.
No Also in 19 25 there was passed a law inside Japan that at long last granted a universal naval suffer each. Or again what happened was that all property qualifications were eliminated and henceforth only the standard qualifications of adulthood and of well mental competence were the qualifications for the right to vote and for very obvious reasons this was regarded also as a step in the direction of well liberal democracy. Now also this decade of the 1920s the first half covered by the Regency of the crown prince and the second half by the first five years of the present emperors rule. This was also a period of international cooperation
in the area of Japan's foreign policy. Japan was a very active member of the League of Nations. The old League of Nations Japan did become a partner to the treaties and other agreements that carried the Washington settlement which was arrived at at the Washington conference at the end of one thousand twenty one and one thousand twenty two. Japan also became a signatory of many other international instruments international treaties particularly the Kellogg prion pact of the late 1920s the so-called renunciation of war pact all of which were designed to create an era of international peace and stability that hopefully at least at the time hopefully. And we now know how ill founded those hopes were that hopefully would prevent a recurrence of what was regarded as the great disaster of the First World War. So there were many signs then that
Japan was reaching a period of what was well accepted as a political maturity and again in the direction of democracy. You know on the other hand there were two rather ominous signs that perhaps Japan had not arrived at a stage of political maturity that it seemed to have. The first one of these was very obvious. That was in the form of what was called at the time the peace Preservation Act of 1925. No this peace Preservation Act was actually a part of the package that made the passage of the law relating to universal male suffrage possible. Now very briefly this piece Preservation Act provided that it was a crime to do or to say
anything that would undermine either the Japanese system of government which again was built around the idea of the Emperor and particularly the idea that he was the sole ruler of the country and beyond that it was descended from the gods. And the second thing that was made a crime was any act or again including speech that tended to undermine the system of private property. Now this law I should say with these two key provisions obviously were at the very least undemocratic if not positively Democratic. And incidentally a year later in one thousand twenty six. This law was revised to make it possible to execute anyone found guilty of the violation of this peace Preservation Act. Now this
law continued on the books until the end of the Second World War in 1045. And as I shall be stressing in a later broadcast was one of the legal foundations for the system of authoritarianism that unhappily carried to arised Japanese government and politics. Now the other development the consequences of which were not observable at the time that is in the 1920s was the first the other side of the coin of civilian control of government and indeed the other side of the coin in the development of these promising signs of liberal democracy. And that was the fact that the military in Japan and very definitely lost both prestige and power. And of course it was because of this development of civilian control over the government.
Now as I shall be emphasizing the important thing was that in the military the generals particularly but also with support from the Admirals resented this loss of prestige and power and in only a few years were it to institute a drive of their own not only a revival of their previous position. That is down to the end of the roughly nine hundred twenty I should say but also an even stronger position. So consequently it was in this rather well complex interweaving certain hopefully democratic developments and disturbing political developments. And in a general air of economic difficulty that the present Emperor Hirohito began His rule. He was born on April 29 1001 and
he succeeded to the throne on December 25th. Nineteen twenty five. Again at the death of his mad father. And so consequently if he reigns for two more years his own reign will match in length that of his illustrious grandfather the Emperor Meiji. He was the ceremonial crowned exceeded formally to the throne on November 10 nineteen twenty eight. Now it probably sounds corny to put it mildly. But I think that the life of the Emperor of Japan can be described only as an incredible drama. What I would like to do for the next few minutes is to indicate a number of things that have happened to the present emperor
of Japan and also a number of the roles that he has played in the affairs of his country. Well in the first place as I mentioned a moment ago he was the son of a mad funder and obviously this could not but have had some kind of well abnormal effect on well both the boy and the teenager before he acceded to the throne. Also in his early 20s just after the age of 20 As a matter of fact he was a witness of a political struggle over the woman who later became his wife. And in time of course his Empress. What happened was simply that one political group inside Japan felt that the Crown Princess to be was unsuitable both for political reasons and perhaps for other reasons to
become the wife of a future Empress. Unfortunately we do not know and perhaps will never know the extent to which he was an active witness or a passive witness in the struggle. But again I think that you can see that there were elements here of well again drama. Now also while he was still a crown the crown prince he was the target of an assassin that was in the year one thousand twenty three. And again the circumstances are by no means been clarified in the almost half century since that event. Because for the obvious fact that here was the heir to the throne who had been threatened not only threatened but really made the target again. As I said of an assassin. And again this sort of thing certainly should not have happened and in the sense that officially did not happen.
All we know is that the would be assassin was seized and was tried. Now also in quite a different sphere. This individual the emperor of Japan util hito was made the object of a process of deification. Now as I indicated in an earlier broadcast one of the significant developments in the process of modernization was the taking of the imperial throne and the occupant of the imperial throne as the core of the process of building up a feeling of nationalism a feeling of nationhood among the Japanese people. And again a feeling which would provide the all important Well foundation of unification which was a central element of the whole process of modernization from
1870 onward. Now as I indicated the process was started under the Emperor Meiji and carried well along by his death in one thousand twelve. But certainly the present emperor was a witness to the well not only intensification but full development of this process of deification. He was regarded and this was taught in the schools and there were many other devices that were made to that were utilized to create this feeling. He was regarded as to use a literal translation of the phrase the Japanese phrase a god on earth as the descendant of again the divine imperial line. Now for one an example there was what could be described as mass worship on national holidays particularly the
Emperor's birthday particularly what he is referred to as foundation day the 11th of February the date on which many years ago the first emperor was supposed to have come to the throne. Well this mass worship was a very simple thing. The Japanese were supposed to stop whatever it was that they were doing. Usually at 10am on these holidays and Baal in the direction of the Imperial Palace. Meaning of course. Obviously in the direction of the Emperor as well. Now this was in a sense a formality but I think that you will agree that if roughly 70 million people pause in whatever they are doing and simply make a symbolic gesture symbolic bow in the direction of a ruler. This must have some kind of an emotional impact on the man himself. Now another obvious manifestation of this process of deification
was the almost complete physical separation of the Emperor from his people. And so you had this curious business of integrating the emperor as a symbol firmly into the lives of the people making them highly conscious of his existence and above all the attitudes that they should have toward him. But at the same time isolating him from the people themselves. Now almost all the Emperor became particularly from the early 1930s onward the symbol of all that was well actively hated by the external world in Japan. The symbol of militarism the symbol of aggression the symbol of ultra nationalism and that again was because of the fact of his great integration into the well political attitudes of the Japanese people. To say nothing of the fact that many of
the hated acts of military aggression that were carried out by the Japanese were carried out in the name of the Emperor. You know also growing out of the fact that he had become such a symbol he was a witness of many things that his government did that his that his country did that its government did that its leaders did and that many of its subjects did which he must have detested as an individual. We do not know about this for certain for the simple reason that there is very little that we do know about the thoughts of the man on the other hand. It is a reasonable assumption that he did know about many things and particularly knew of the reaction of other peoples toward what was being done by his country and his own subjects. Now also he was the constitutional ruler of his country.
And as the constitutional head of state he had not by any physical compulsion but simply because of his role. He had to indorse policies that eventually led his nation to the very edge of destruction and certainly led his nation completely into a period of disaster. Now on the other hand he did play a highly important and very dramatic role in the history of the country. Because in spite of the fact that he was carefully insulated from politics and from acts of government except in the purely formal sense it was apparently he who made the final decision to end the war. To accept the terms of surrender that had been presented to his government by the victorious allies. This
act this decision on the part of the emperor has been extremely well documented and it seems beyond any question that it was he who pronounced the fatal words that resolved the deadlock that had developed over the making of a decision which obviously was of critical importance to the future of Japan itself. Now in addition to that it was the president emperor who a few months after the end of the Second World War issued on January 1st 1946 and imperial rescript which is generally well Kerry to rise as being the renunciation of divinity not only on his part as an individual but of divinity on the part of the imperial line. This was not a dramatic renunciation but he simply indicated that all of the myths and legends that surrounded
the origins and the history of the imperial family were not necessarily true. Now on the other hand in spite of the fact that this might seem a little like hedging when you balance this statement against all that was done to develop this process of deification it was a an act of very great significance. Now Los he was in for some months at least the unhappy position of being the target of demands by some governments to say nothing of a number of leaders and organs of public opinion in many countries demands that he be tried as a war criminal again a position growing out of his involvement in the militarism and aggression that had been carried out by his nation. And of course the very clear implication of this demand was that
naturally he would be found guilty and of course executed as being a major instigator not only of his country's aggression but obviously also the second world war itself. He also heard many demands. Again some by governments that in the imperial throne be abolished and not only that the imperial throne be abolished but of course that the imperial family be if not eliminated completely at least completely removed from the role that had to it had played for many centuries. Now in addition to that the emperor is a poet. There is nothing unusual about this in Japanese terms because individuals to be cultured are supposed to be able to write Japanese point treat. He is also a marine biologist. Apparently not simply of carrying this out as a hobby but he has published scientific papers and several books
relating to his study of marine biology particularly in the area not far from Tokyo in which his summer residence is located. To the best of my knowledge his studies have been accepted as well legitimate by other marine biologist. He is not credited with any earth shaking developments in this field but on the other hand apparently he is more than simply a dilettante. And finally perhaps it is important to note that he has become well recognized by the Japanese as what we would term simply a family man a father and a grandfather. And it is not misleading to say that at the present time he is regarded or he is I should say the human object of the warmly affectionate respect of these people. Certainly a position far
removed from that of being a god on earth who should be regarded only from a distance with awe and reverence. Note the missing element in this fascinating life is simply that we have no idea at all of how the man has reacted to and thought about his many roles in recent history. I have often thought that one of the most fascinating books of the 20th century might well be the memoirs of the Emperor. But on the other hand I think it is perfectly safe to say that such memoirs will never be written or if written will never be made public. Now the hamper it has never been interviewed in the formal sense of the term. He has been met by individuals and in that sense there have been interviews. But we have nothing that is in the record of the
mass media that would indicate give us any clue as to the man himself. His Imperial re scripts the official documents issued in his is his name. Obviously not only written by others but they are so formal in nature that they say nothing at all about the man himself. They are simply the utterances of the ruler of the country. It is quite clear that his scientific papers and books provide no real clue except of course as to his stature as a scientist. His poems also tell us very little. One because of the nature of Japanese poetry itself which does not lend itself to the expression of thoughts emotions and so forth and so on. On the other hand it is perfectly clear that his life experiences are a true reflection of the history of his country.
You have just heard a broadcast on the topic. Japan and Emperor Hirohito. The fifth of a series titled Japan 1868 through 1968 with John M. Markey professor of government and vice dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Massachusetts. The title of the next broadcast in this series is the roots of militarism Japan 1868 through 968 comes to you from WFC are five College Radio in Amherst Massachusetts. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
Japan: 1868-1968
Japan and Emperor Hirohito
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WFCR (Radio station : Amherst, Mass.)
Four College Radio
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Producing Organization: WFCR (Radio station : Amherst, Mass.)
Producing Organization: Four College Radio
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Chicago: “Japan: 1868-1968; Japan and Emperor Hirohito,” 1968-10-07, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 13, 2024,
MLA: “Japan: 1868-1968; Japan and Emperor Hirohito.” 1968-10-07. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 13, 2024. <>.
APA: Japan: 1868-1968; Japan and Emperor Hirohito. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from