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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 eleventh of a series of broadcasts with Johnny Maki 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 the new democracy. Professor Markey as a necessary introduction into the question of the new democracy in Japan I think I shall have to say just a few. Well General words about democracy in Japan as well shall we call it an historical phenomenon. In the first place there was nothing in Japan which could be described as democracy down to the beginning of the
modern period. There was nothing in Japanese government and politics and indeed very little if anything in Japanese society which could have provided a foundation for the development of a Japanese form of democracy. Tokugawa Japan was an absolute a state. There was nothing in the system inside Japan which could be described as coming anywhere near a democratic system. And to describe Tokugawa Japan as an absolute a state is not passing a value judgment on the Tokugawa family or its government but is simply describing an actual situation inside the country. Now in earlier broadcasts I have alluded very very briefly to the role of democracy in the modernization of Japan. Beginning again back around 1870.
As I emphasized in an earlier broadcast the early leaders of modern Japan were traditional minded traditional minded in the sense that they felt very strongly that the new Japan that they were in the process of creating should be built on a firmly Japanese foundation. They went to the outside for many modern institutions and many modern devices but they felt that if these things modern were to be firmly integrated into Japanese society they had to be built around an essentially Japanese core. Now these leaders were interested in personal power and in national power as well. They were not interested in creating a democratic state. On the other hand as I mentioned briefly in an earlier broadcast Democratic ideas
did come into the country and again very early going back into the decade of the 1870s. These ideas were known to a restricted number of Japanese. They learned foreign languages English and French particularly. And they could read current books dealing with problems of democracy as that was either in operation or developing back at the close of the 19th century. A very very small number of the intellectual leaders of Japan became well converted to Democratic ideas and even felt that democracy should be established in Japan. But the voices of these men were never allowed inside the country. They never were able to develop a position of political influence for themselves and they had only a restricted. Well popular following. Now Japan's first
written constitution came into effect in 1889 the so-called mangy Constitution. I would like to see just a few words about that constitution because its content in a way summarizes the position of democracy in Japan under that constitution a constitution which incidentally operated from eight hundred eighty nine down to the end of the second world war technically down to one thousand forty seven. Now this eight hundred eighty nine Constitution was an extremely interesting blend. For one example it could be described as having certain democratic elements because it did recognize the existence of certain fundamental human freedoms. It did not have what was ever called a Bill of Rights but nevertheless there were listed in that Constitution various freedoms
guaranteed to the Japanese freedom of thought freedom of expression freedom of religion and so forth and so one. But simultaneously. That constitution also provided in spite of the wording of the guarantee that constitution also provided that these rights and freedoms could be restricted. They could be restricted by the government. And so you could say that the eight hundred eighty nine Constitution made constitutional. The restriction of the rights and freedoms that were numerate did in that constitution. So you see here then this blend of new ideas of fundamental rights and freedom from the Western world. But at the same time a series of restrictions restrictions which again were consistent with the non democratic tradition of Japan. I know also that constitution provided for a form
of representative government. There was a national legislature called the Imperial Diet. Some members of which were elected by the Japanese people. Or to put it more precisely by Japanese males. Now as I mentioned earlier universal males suffer age was not created in Japan until one thousand twenty five. And indeed women were never given the vote until after the Second World War. But nevertheless there was a representative form of government established. But again the restriction on the right of the suffrage meant that it was not rightly represented. Even when there was the system of universal male suffrage. Now also this constitution provided for a concentration of power in the hands of the executive branch. There were certain restrictions placed around the
powers of the Imperial Diet which made it impossible for it to operate effectively as an independent representative legislative body. Now also this constitution of eight hundred eighty nine was built around the idea of imperial sovereignty that all powers of government were concentrated in the hands of the Emperor and of course as I indicated earlier it was the duty of the subjects of Japan to abate the will of the Emperor. The orders of his government. A government operating again under the principle of imperial sovereignty. Now in spite of the restrictive features of this eight hundred eighty nine Constitution by roughly 1920 there had developed in Japan some currents of democracy. This idea that is referred to as Thais
show democracy democracy developing under the Emperor Thai show. Now by roughly eight thousand nine hundred twenty there had been more than half a century of well political and governmental development inside Japan. And one political institution closely related to democracy which had developed inside Japan was the political party and again by 19 20 parties were apparently going political institutions inside Japan. And in spite of the constitutional restrictions the Imperial Diet and particularly the lower house the House of Representatives of that diet was wielding a fair amount of political power and also of political influence. And there was by roughly 1930 an appearance of strength in what was referred to as
this new current of liberal democracy in Japan. No on the other hand as you will recall these promising developments of the 1920s which again were built on a Century Foundation roughly half a century old disappeared very rapidly with the emergence of militarism and the authoritarian state in Japan in the early 1930s. And roughly from the mid 1980s down to the end of the second world war Japan had an authoritarian government which was characterized of course by a suppression of all rights and freedoms. And indeed the institution of an actively anti Democratic campaign inside the country the leaders of Japan both military and civilian in the 1930s had come to the conclusion that democracy even the slight beginnings of democracy
inside the country was really anti-Japanese because it was running counter to this idea of the supremacy of the Emperor. So since roughly 1936 onward Japan was regarded as a state justice to tell it Terry and as authoritarian as its two partners Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in Europe. Now this background of well shall we call it a lack of democracy inside Japan was not only a well indication of a pre 945 political development inside the country but in a very real sense it was a necessary condition for the emergence of a new democracy in Japan since 1985. In the political and governmental sphere in Japan there has taken place since
1945. What some writers refer to as a democratic revolution. This was a peaceful revolution a bloodless revolution. But on the other hand the changes that have come over the face of Japan are of such a far reaching nature that they can be descried in my opinion only by the use of the adjective revolutionary. No there were obviously have been I should say obviously two elements involved in this peaceful democratic revolution in Japan. The first is the one that I have discussed at some length already namely And obviously the occupation. No you will recall that one of the objectives of the occupation was democratization. And I would like to
refer again to the precise statement of this objective as it appeared in American policy toward a defeated and occupied Japan. This second main objective of the occupation. Read as follows. To bring about the eventual establishment of a peaceful and responsible government which will respect the rights of other states and will support the objectives of the United States as reflected in the ideals and principles of the charter of the United Nations. The United States desires that this government should conform as closely as may be to principles of democratic self-government. But it is not the responsibility of the Allied powers to impose upon Japan any form of government not supported by the freely expressed will of the people.
You know when the occupation began it seemed as if it the occupation were acting in defiance of the latter part of that statement and that it was actually forcing imposing upon Japan a form of government not supported by the freely expressed will of the people. Now why did it appear as if and in reality up to a certain point the occupation was imposing a form of government on Japan. Well in the first place what the occupation did was to eliminate militarism and authoritarianism. You will recall that the first objective of the occupation was disarmament and demilitarization and obviously a victorious army was known to move in and to disarm and to demilitarize the recent enemy as rapidly as possible and clearly this
operation well was a manifestation of the imposition of the will of the victor on the will of the event wish. No disarmament was carried out rapidly and effectively military forces were demobilized military men career military men were forbidden to participate in public life and so forth and so on. Now also the occupation eliminated many authoritarian laws. For one example all laws which imposed any restrictions on freedom of speech were declared immediately suspended and indeed laws relating to freedom of political association and political assembly were also suspended. And again there was an example of the imposition of well a form of government on Japan. Now also they occupation
in the initial stages when about making certain very fundamental changes in the Japanese government itself. For example the power of the cabinet was cut back very considerably. The system of a national a government police was also abolished and government control of education was also eliminated. That is to say central government control of education was evil emanated. And here again in the structure of government itself the victors were imposing their will on the vanquished. Now on the other hand and this was the matter of far greater importance they occupation also moved to introduce democratic elements and institutions and ideas into Japan. For one obvious example. Simultaneously with the elimination of all restrictive authoritarian laws the occupation
declared that all Japanese were guaranteed all the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms speech thought assembly and so forth and so won the occupation move to revive political parties of all kinds. Very rapidly. The occupation carried out a programme of educational reform only destroying central government control over education but encouraging and assisting the Japanese to create an entirely new system of education a new system of administration a new curriculum new textbooks and so forth and so on. The occupation also promoted a very important program of land reform designed to enable as many Japanese farmers as possible to own their own land. And incidentally this was not only an economic reform but it was a political reform as well because it was
hoped that a stake in an economic stake in Japanese society namely the ownership of land would encourage Japanese farmers to participate more broadly in political affairs to try to protect their new economic gains through peaceful action. At the at the poles and also the occupation carried out or began I should say a process of the mental patient of women which was regarded as completely unrealistic and idealistic but which turned out to be a matter of very great sociological and also political significance inside the country. Now what the occupation was doing was in effect was simultaneously creating a vacuum by removing certain things from Japanese society but simultaneously filling that vacuum. Through the introduction of new
institutions new attitudes and new ideas. Now on the other hand the critical element in this democratic revolution was not the occupation in spite of the very great importance of many of the Acts of the occupation but the Japanese people or perhaps more precisely the response of the Japanese people to the things that the occupation was doing both to Japan and for Japan. Universally you might say the reaction of the Japanese people was favorable to what it was the occupation was doing in the first place and this was a matter of very great significance and indeed it is still a matter of great significance. The Japanese people all reacted violently against war and militarism. They had followed
the lines the policies that had been laid down by the Japanese government going back into the decade of the 1890s. The evidence is that the majority of the Japanese people accepted with varying degrees of enthusiasm what Japan was getting involved in. Down past the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of one thousand forty one. On the other hand what the Japanese nation suffered between roughly the middle of one thousand forty two down to the end of the war was of such magnitude that there was a universal revulsion against war and militarism and indeed against authoritarianism itself. In other words the occupation followed to a highly receptive if society. When it went about demilitarizing and disarming Japan this
certainly was an operation again imposed on Japan that received enthusiastic support by the Japanese. Now also and this was something that was likewise not visible in the minds of anyone in the beginning stages of the occupation. There was almost an equally strong reaction against authoritarianism against the government and the leaders who had gotten Japan involved in such a tragic and destructive situation as the Japanese people witnessed in the closing years of the Second World War. Not only that but the Japanese people when they had the opportunity indicated very clearly that they were violently opposed to the kinds of police suppression that had been visited upon them by the
government police. Again for many decades. Now perhaps more importantly than this there was the very important consideration that quite unexpectedly for most observers the Japanese in general responded very actively and favorably to the democratic rights and freedoms and processes that were introduced by the occupation. In other words the Japanese in their reaction against authoritarianism rushed almost headlong into an acceptance of the new rights and freedoms that had been introduced. Now what were some of the reasons why the Japanese responded so favorably to these ideas and practices of democracy which as I emphasized at the beginning certainly
had no very deep or strong roots in Japan either traditional Japan or modern Japan. Up to 1945. In the first place there was the very important problem of intellectual leadership. Well let me rephrase that and say simply the leadership of the intellectuals in Japan. The intellectuals in Japan professors students professional men writers editors and so forth and so on. Had of course suffered most at the hands of the authoritarian regime because Japanese intellectuals as other intellectuals deal in the currency of free expression of intellectual interchange and so consequently it was they who were forced to keep still. It was they who were the principal targets of the restrictive the suppressive legislation particularly after the
mid-1930s. And it was they particularly in the mass media who led one in the attack on the old system and two in the support indeed the very warm welcome of the new rights and freedoms. Now also they're operated in this situation. One of the points I mentioned earlier namely that even though democracy had never become firmly established in modern Japan many of the ideas had been circulating inside the country from roughly the 1870s onward and in spite of the suppression in spite of all restrictions placed on the circulation of these ideas. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese had some kind of idea of what was involved in democracy and consequently of how to utilize the rights and freedoms usually associated with democracy.
No. Finally there was another extremely important element namely the existence in Japan of affective mass literacy. At the end of the war the literacy rate of Japan was somewhere between 95 and 100 percent. Not what this meant was simply that through the normal operation of the mass media of communication and particularly through the circulation of the printed word the Japanese people were massively exposed almost instantaneously to the new freedoms and the new ideas associated with the new political system which was in effect being introduced into their society by an alien occupation. I would like to say just a few words about one of the central elements in the New Democracy and that is the constitution of 1947 a constitution which is a thoroughly
democratic constitution. Knowing the origins of this constitution have been I should say a matter of great controversy inside Japan. What happened very briefly was this. When the occupation began in the late summer of 1945. The 1889 Constitution was still in effect. And as I've indicated this was a non democratic constitution. What the occupation was confronted with was a situation in which it was trying to bring about a democratic revolution under a Japanese fundamental law that was in violent opposition to democracy. General MacArthur as the supreme commander for the Allied Powers notified the Japanese government that it would have to give constitutional revision very
high priority. The Japanese studied the Constitution of eight hundred eighty nine. They came up with certain ideas for its revision which turned out to be almost completely unsatisfactory. Finally early in one thousand forty six General MacArthur ordered one of the sections of the occupation headquarters to draft a new Japanese constitution. This was done. This draft was presented to the Japanese government much to the shock surprise of that government and the government was informed that it would have to release this draft as its own. And this is what was done. No one was deceived by this operation although it was surrounded by a great secrecy. The draft was debated for about six months by the old Imperial Diet and some revisions were made and it was finally approved and went into effect in May of
Japan: 1868-1968
Japan: The New Democracy
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WFCR (Radio station : Amherst, Mass.)
Four College Radio
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Producing Organization: WFCR (Radio station : Amherst, Mass.)
Producing Organization: Four College Radio
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-35-11 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:51
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Chicago: “Japan: 1868-1968; Japan: The New Democracy,” 1968-11-15, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 6, 2021,
MLA: “Japan: 1868-1968; Japan: The New Democracy.” 1968-11-15. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 6, 2021. <>.
APA: Japan: 1868-1968; Japan: The New Democracy. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from