Regarding the Sept. 9 AP article “Official history of late Emperor Hirohito dodges controversies“: I think the key to understand its content lies in the following sentence from the article: “The practice of documenting an emperor’s reign follows a Chinese tradition.”

The Chinese were indeed very keen historians, and the purpose of their historiography was not to evaluate objective historical facts but rather to legitimize the current ruler’s reign. Therefore, Chinese history was rewritten after each dynastic change — following the principle that those who control the past can rule in the present.

Now the Japanese Imperial institution doesn’t have the same clout as the Chinese emperor had, because it does not have control of the present — neither in its own nor in foreign countries. So naturally this view of history comes under scrutiny, which angers the rightists in Japan.

The Japanese Constitution at the time was modeled after the Prussian constitution because it rendered sovereign power to the emperor and not to the people. With this framework the modern Japanese state was molded according to traditional Japanese concepts in a quasi-familial, social structure. As a ruler, the emperor had physical control, as father figure he commanded the emotional, and as god, the spiritual realm of his subjects.

Even if he had no direct control over political decisions — as often claimed — Japan could not have become an authoritarian country without [the emperor]. He must have been aware that he was instrumental in the indoctrination of an ultra-nationalist ideology (kokusuishugi), of which he was the very center. If you ask people here if they have heard the term kokusuishugi, there won’t be many who know it. Japan will never come to terms with its history as long as it is taboo to discuss this ideology and the role the emperor played in it.

The other aspect mentioned in the article is that omissions resulted from fear of right-wing groups to which, to some degree, a number of prominent politicians belong. Recently there was a discussion about the hate speech of rightists having to be tolerated for the sake of free speech. Free speech is supposed to further democratic processes, but the intention of their screaming and shouting is intimidation, thus inhibiting the free speech of other elements of society.

Case in point is the history of the Showa Emperor and, with it, the history of modern Japan.

peter link

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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