chapter  18
11 Pages

The Image of the Emperor Shōwa as a Symbol of National Aspirations

T he aim of this paper is to seek an answer to the question ofwhat national aspirations the Japanese press projected as symbolized in the image of the Emperor Sh6wa in 1945-1960, the years following the Second World War, i.e. the period of occupation and reconstruction. The sources employed for this are the issues of the English-language newspapers The Japan Times and The Mainichi and the Japanese-language Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun published on the Emperor's birthda~ 29 April, and Kigensetsu, 11 February:

When the Second World War ended in unconditional surrender for Japan this brought a fundamental change in the position of the Emperor. Acceding to the demands of the American occupation authorities, he was obliged to issue a rescript in January 1946 denying his divine nature, and when the constitution of 1947 was promulgated it contained an official definition of his new status. The Emperor was to be a symbol of the unity of the state and the nation, accorded this position by the free will of the people, who exercised supreme power. Thus all the actions ofstate which the Emperor performed were to be approved; by the government and the government was to be held responsible for them. (Brown 1955: 240-50)

Throughout the Second World War, the press had made use of the Emperor above all as a symbol ofthe fighting spirit ofJapan, (FaIt 1993: 93-106) and the adoption of this new approach did

not come at once, for the tone of the newspapers at Kigensetsu and the Imperial Birthday in 1946 was still virtually the same as before. Thus, the Nippon Times (Thejapan Times) sought to raise the nation's morale on the occasion of these festivals, and just as appeals had been made to the people during the war to continue the struggle in spite of all the setbacks, efforts were now made to stimulate confidence in the future and in national reconstruction. (Nippon Times: 11.2.1946)

The same spirit was also manifest on the Emperor's birthday in the spring, when the papers harked back to former times in telling of the honour afforded to the Emperor by all his people. Again, his status was exploited in the spirit of the traditional world-view in order to overcome the current difficulties, by emphasizing how the emotional bonds between a gracious ruler and his faithful people shaped the nation into a united family which was able to withstand the essential changes which had to be made in the country without any dangerous conflicts or tensions. (Nippon Times: 29.4.1946)

The crucial moment ofchange was the adoption of the new constitution and the decree by the occupying authorities on 5 July 1948 that Kigensetsu should be removed from the list of national feast-days and that the name of the Imperial Birthday should be changed from 1enchosetsu, which referred to a special birthda)T, to Tenno tanjobi, implying simply an ordinary birthday: The aim of the authorities was evidently to reduce the atmosphere of extreme reverence that surrounded the Emperor. (Woodward 1972: 142-7)

In addition to the official changes, a new element was introduced into the Emperor's birthday in 1948 by the opening of the area of the Imperial Palace to the public for the first time, and a further new feature was that the Emperor himself appeared on the roof of the palace to wave his hat in acknowledgement of the 'Banzai' greetings shouted by the people. (Nippon Times 30.4.1948) This event can be interpreted as a conscious attempt to popularize the Imperial throne and bring the Emperor closer to the people in a manner in which the previous emphasis on the bond between the ruler and his people and their common destiny were replaced by a demonstration of personal interest and initiative on the part of the people.