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Japan's emperors: From divine commander to 'comforter-in-chief'

17 Comments
By Shingo Ito

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© 2019 AFP

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The Gelded Senpai of Senpais

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The the emperor was not regarded as God but as a god of which there were too many to count according to Japanese mythology

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Glad to see that the story does not state that the line of Emperors was unbroken, since there were times when concubines had to produce the heirs.

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Do people actually think the Emperor was in charge during the Empire days? Anyone who thinks that haven't studied any Japanese history at all. Japanese Emperors have never had any actual power throughout the entire history of Japan, except for perhaps a very short period during the Heian period. Japan throughout history have never been a centralized State like China and Korea, but a very decentralized place with many city-states fighting for power over the whole territory.

The idea of as single unifying Emperor came about when various clans came together to form a confederation called Yamatai, later known as Yamato. The put a Queen called Himiko, the first actual Emperor, to represent the power of the confederation, but even then, the confederation was made up of many Clans, but ruled by the most powerful one of them, and ever since then the competition has been going for which clan would rise to power and control the Yamatai.

The Emperor has never been anything but a symbol figure. Even during the Empire days, the real people who were in charge of the country were the military generals, namely Tojo. Since Japan doesn't have any religion, the Emperor was used as a religious figure the same way European Kings would use God as a justification for their power.

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That ideological framework was used by nationalists in the military and government to lead the country into conflict during World War II, when many young soldiers carried out suicide attacks screaming: "Long live the emperor."

Sure. Never mind that Hirohito ordered the Imperisl military headquarters moved to the palace, personally approved various missions and strategies, and that he suddenly had enough power to end the war in August 1945. He was definitely used by the government and military.

The AFP should be ashamed at pushing this Japanese right wing historical revisionism. Repugnant.

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Do people actually think the Emperor was in charge during the Empire days? Anyone who thinks that haven't studied any Japanese history at all. Japanese Emperors have never had any actual power throughout the entire history of Japan, except for perhaps a very short period during the Heian period. Japan throughout history have never been a centralized State like China and Korea, but a very decentralized place with many city-states fighting for power over the whole territory.

See my initial post, and do a bit more research.

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sensei

Glad to see that the story does not state that the line of Emperors was unbroken, since there were times when concubines had to produce the heirs.

Having concubines to produce the heirs does not break the line. On the contrary, the very reason why Emperors historically had concubines was to make sure that the line of Emperors continues. 56 out of 125 Emperors were children of concubines.

And not having concubines today is the main reason why the current Royal family is in danger of having no male heirs in the near future. So there are conservative advocates who are trying to restore Royal concubine system (側室制度). Former Osaka mayor, Toru Hashimoto is one of them.

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In reading this article, as well as the comments, I was reminded of just how much disagreement remains to this day regarding Emperor Hirohito and his role in Japan's military actions from the start of his reign until the end of WW2. Books have been written on it and it is safe to say that historians are not in universal agreement.

However, I actually prefer to focus on just how much the view of the Emperor has changed in the post-WW2 period and, in particular, how Emperor Akihito has helped in that process. Regardless of anyone's views on Hirohito, the current Emperor and Empress have my respect for how they have handled themselves, particularly with respect to their efforts to serve the Japanese people.

It is going to be very interesting to see how Emperor-to-be Naruhito and his wife follow in their footsteps and carry out their duties.

Also, and something that no one has talked about, it will be interesting to see how they and the IHA handle the fact that the soon-to-be Crown Prince will not be their son, but the son of Naruhito's brother. That is a dynamic that will be particularly interesting in the decades to come!

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'Akihito has also rejected nationalism'

(The crown prince) 'he hopes, like his father, to be "close to the people".'

Very fitting for the modern democratic Japan.

Sad to say, in many other nations (incl. the USA) we're having authoritarian + totalitarian dictators with absolute powers and personality cults who don't officially claim divinity but act like they think they're gods. Citizens are raised and indoctrinated to 'revere' these 'emperors'/'leaders'. These 'leaders' are not  "close to the people" in any way. It's that way in China, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and now the USA.

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Do people actually think the Emperor was in charge during the Empire days? Anyone who thinks that haven't studied any Japanese history at all. Japanese Emperors have never had any actual power throughout the entire history of Japan, except for perhaps a very short period during the Heian period. Japan throughout history have never been a centralized State like China and Korea, but a very decentralized place with many city-states fighting for power over the whole territory.

Ilovecoffee, in fact drinking some as I type!!.

While I have a different take on Emperors power, yes it is certainly true that throughout much of Japans history it was virtually ALWAYS at war...………...with ITSELF!!

All these castles dotting the country were not tourist traps originally, just saying.

Also the word kuni doesn't necessarily refer to Japan as a whole but the area of Japan, like Kyushu, Kansai, Tohoku all these areas & more can at times be referred to as kuni or where someone is from.

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Zones2surf, “it will be interesting to see how they and the IHA handle the fact that the soon-to-be Crown Prince will not be their son, but the son of Naruhito's brother.”

When the current Crown Prince becomes Emperor, the next in line will be his brother, not his nephew.

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@Educator60,

When the current Crown Prince becomes Emperor, the next in line will be his brother, not his nephew.

You are absolutely right. I stand corrected.

That being said, the underlying point is still valid. And that is that the next in line to the throne will not be the offspring of the soon-to-be Emperor. As such, this must change the dynamic in the Imperial household somewhat.

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............. said to stretch back more than 2,600 years.

But many other emperors served as little more than puppets or rubber stamps for samurai warriors or ambitious officials from leading families.

This makes for a beautiful history. His- story.

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Japanese Emperors were neither "Divine Commanders" nor "puppets or rubber stamps".

It is probably best to separate Authority (権威) and Power (権力) in Japanese political system in its long history and even today. Simply put, Emperor had Authority while secular Government or Shogunate had Power. It's a special kind of "Separation of Powers" in Japanese politics through out its history. The closest resemblance in West may be "Pope vs King" in the medieval West.

With very few exceptions, basically the authority of Emperors has never been derived from military power. At one point, Samurai, who were supposed to protect Emperors, decided to become the rulers themselves. And yet, the rulers, the actual political/military power such as Shogunate, Post-Meiji Japanese Military, even GHQ of MacArthur did not depose Emperor for various reasons.

Perhaps there are two main reasons, I think, why the actual rulers did not depose Emperors. They realized that (1) Emperor was not a military threat to them and that (2) they found the authority of Emperor is useful for themselves.

So what's the authority of Emperor, if it is not from military power? The history itself, or its cultural tradition, is my answer. You may think some of those elaborate rituals are useless and meaningless. You'd better think again.

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Didn't he do the opening of the 1st Olympics in Japan at the beginning of his reign ? Perhaps it's apt for his Son to do likewise for the 2nd Olympics in Japan ?

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I think the japanese emperors will always have militaristic power and influence, no matter how much they try to make you think otherwise,.. lowering your guard.

On a side not: Long live U.S. General Douglas MacArthur.

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*On a side note

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