What is the Japanese term for war

About the concept and function of the "kokutai" ideology:

The myth of the Japanese empire as an ideology of rule before the Second World War

Yoshihisa HAGIWARA

1. What is the> kokutai

Originally the word "kokutai" in Japanese meant the national characteristic or the character of the people. It had no further political implications. However, this common word was mystified many times in the process of modernization and the subsequent militarization of Japan in the last 80 years up to the end of World War II and served as an ideology of rule. At the height of the Japanese militaristic era, the idea of ​​"kokutai" as the state principle of the Japanese Empire was declared sacred. Masao Maruyama, the best-known Japanese political scientist, points out that this 'kokutai' ideology showed its terrible magical power in Japan, not in spite of, but precisely because and to the extent that this ideology was hardly made conscious by Japanese of all generations: "A keen consciousness The post-war generation already lacks the magical power that this non-religious religion, denoted by the word kokutai, had, while the older generation, which was completely addicted to this "magic" and which enjoyed the "freedom of thought" within this magical framework, departed from the beginning. "(1)

As an aside, one should not overlook the fact that an effective ideology almost always has the character of the unconscious, although it is the predominant idea in a society. Precisely for this reason, ideological criticism "makes one aware of a number of fallacies and phenomena, which, as long as they were not yet clear, could be used with a clear conscience and with a prospect of success. / ... / In order not to lead to this unpleasant dilemma one often tries to prevent the problem from becoming conscious. "(2)

But the "kokutai" ideology had not just one unconsciousbut also one indefinite Character, because a theoretical fixation or definition of "kokutai" was always carefully taboo. This taboo has given the kokutai ideology a doubly reinforced ideological force. Defensively, it was given immunity to criticism because the core of this ideology was always unclear and difficult to grasp, and offensively it was able to suppress all critics of the regime by branding the "anti-kokutai" as enemies of the people. No one knew what "kokutai" was, but seemed to know what against > kokutai

The Japanese government should pay the bill for this lack of definition even in the event of a defeat in the war. While top bodies of the Japanese government still agreed on "maintaining the kokutai" when they accepted the Potsdam Declaration, they did not have a common understanding of what "kokutai" really meant, and it was discussed in the presence of the Tenno held meeting of the Council of Ministers heatedly debated. This discussion finally had to be brought to an end by a so-called "holy decision" by the Tenno. Maruyama reports on the situation at that time as follows: "As to whether this 'holy decision' really leaves the 'kokutai' intact, the military then split into supporters of an acceptance of the imperial decision and that of a further 'defense of the land of the gods' The kokutai 'conception of the latter consisted in the fact that' true fidelity in a large sense lies in preserving the principle of the kokutai created and handed down by the ancestors of Tenno - also by temporarily contradicting the will of Tenno Hirohito '. "(3 To put it briefly, it was possible, with sufficient reasons, to derive both contradicting positions from the idea of ​​"kokutai" and to justify oneself with it. (Empty formulas!)

In this treatise I would like to first briefly reconstruct the development process of this 'kokutai' ideology historically and then analyze its various strategies in an ideological-critical manner.

1) Masao MARUYAMA, Thinking in Japan. (1961) Frankfurt 1988. P. 45 f.
2) Ernst TOPITSCH, social philosophy between ideology and science. (1961) Neuwied / Berlin 3rd edition 1971. P. 50 f.
3) M. MARUYAMA, loc. Cit., P. 49.

2. The emergence and establishment of the> kokutai

The Meiji Restoration in the mid-19th century brought the rule of the almost seven centuries long feudalist knightly rule of Shogun to an end and reintroduced the Tenno rule, which is characterized by the union of politics and religion. The greatest difficulty the new government faced in this was a fact that the existence of the Tenno was virtually unknown to the people at the time because he was so long removed from the center of power. Immediately after the Meiji Restoration, the young Tenno, who ascended the throne at the age of 14, lacked both concrete institutions that would allow him to exercise his political power and an army of his own, aside from his political ability. In such a situation, the new government of the Tenno had no choice but to try, on the one hand, by emphasizing the religious authority of the Tenno, to underpin the legitimacy of the new political power and, on the other, to create an imperial army as early as possible. (4)
Here another problem arises: A religious authority can only be exercised if it is only in a society a Religion that almost all members of society believe in. But the religion that gave the Tenno supreme authority was a type of Shintoism that was nothing but a ritual or cult in the private Tenno family, and that stems from a natural religion. It is characterized by animism, worship of nature, ancestor cult, shamanism and peasant rituals, (5) which is not a universal religion for everyone anyway. So the Meiji government had an urgent task to create a new religion out of this Shintoism of the imperial familywhich was as natural and universal as possible and which could also incorporate Buddhism or Confucianism (6), which were already widespread in Japan, or at least did not conflict with them. This new religion to be created was state Shintoism, which could be described as Tenno belief, and from which the "kokutai" ideology would then emerge. State Shintoism was a very strange religion, because it had no systematic dogma, no active mission and no name-definable founder. (7) This opacity of State Shintoism not only opens up the possibility of ideological manipulation but also offers a certain immunity to analysis and Criticism: The question of what state Shintoism really is can therefore only be answered with difficulty. But the core of this state Shintoism is quite simple in spite of everything: The Tenno himself is the founder of the divine way (kannagara no michi); the supreme god among 8 million gods is the god of the imperial ancestors; the Tenno is the only priest of this supreme god and for this reason he is himself a god and a living god. (8)

Such an almost primitive belief can only be understood today as a cult in a simple tribal community, which is not taken seriously even in a feudal society. Nevertheless, the Japanese government tried to elevate this myth of the imperial family to the principle of the state. The Meiji government, which knew about the political mobilization power of religion, needed an "axis" for the formation of Japan into a modern state, which is comparable to European Christianity and, as a concentric principle of integration, should provide the necessary prerequisite for the constitutional system of government. And because both Buddhism and traditional Shintoism were too weak and not universal for this purpose, the government tried to give this newly created religion of imperialism the role of "axis". State Shintoism was thus from the beginning a religion strengthened for political purposes. (9) This State Shintoism of the Kaisehaus belief formed, on the one hand as a religious expression of political power and on the other hand as an almost empty religion, ranked above Buddhism, Shintoism and Christianity an unparalleled, dominant state religion; this although the government had never granted state Shintoism religious status because the existence of a state religion was in open contradiction to the "freedom of belief" guaranteed by the imperial constitution. The imperial constitution, which was proclaimed 22 years later after the Restoration (in 1889), embodied this Tenno belief as a state principle. This prepared the basis for the modern Japanese empire, whose form of rule existed as an independent form of government until the end of World War II: the imperial constitution proclaimed that the Tenno 1) political sovereignty, 2) the military command and 3) the holds supreme religious authority in his hands.

Of course, the artificial creation of a national "axis", the creation of a state religion alone is not enough: it actually had to be disseminated and believed by the whole people. In other words, the artificial should be naturalized. With this in mind, the Meiji government developed a massive educational policy: it was made clear in the "Education Decree of the Tenno of October 30, 1890". Right at the beginning it was said:> We, the Tenno, think that my forefather created the country a long time ago and my ancestors strove for the highest virtue. That my subjects have since been loyal and obedient, and that thousands of billions of them have shown their beautiful things in the world with one heart, is the purity and beauty of our kokutai, and here lies the source of education Myth, because the existence of the Tenno when Japan was founded, quite apart from the existence of the forefather and his creation of the country, is not a historical fact. Apart from that, the Tenno passed on various virtues to his subjects in the form of the command: "Serve the fatherland in extreme need voluntarily with virtue and courage to support the eternal imperial fate".
In this decree, too, one can recognize a peculiar mixture of the Confucianist-feudalist doctrine of fidelity with the traditional Japanese ancestor cult. The patriarchal morality of obedience to parents led directly to the national morality of 'loyalty to the emperor and love of the country' with the help of the state's family concept, i.e. the conception 'Tenno is a father, the people are his baby'. In an emergency, such as in war, the people should sacrifice everything for the Tenno. (10)
The dogma of state Shintoism was established with the imperial constitution and the edict of education as the dogma of "kokutai". The central dogma of the 'kokutai' was above all the assertion of the sanctity and inviolability of the Empire of Japan, of which the only evidence of the political myths about the creation of the land of Japan by the god in 'Kojiki' and 'Nihonshoki', the two oldest collections of Japanese legends , was. In school, following this educational policy, these myths were taught as history. Objective historical research on these myths was strictly forbidden and suppressed in the academic community, let alone criticism of them. Other sects of Shintoism (e.g. Tenri sect or Ohmoto sect), which have other myths, were also suppressed as an 'insult to majesty'.

In the process of militarization and imperialism of Japan after the Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895), state Shintoism took on an even more militaristic character, because in the dogma of "kokutai" the idea of ​​the superiority of the divine land of Japan existed from the start as well as the idea of ​​the determination of the Japanese to lead the whole world as "chosen ones". With this ideology one could justify all wars that were waged in the name of Tenno with the slogan "four regions of the world under one roof" as "holy wars".

4) See Shinobu OHE, Yasukuni-jinja. (The Yasukuni Shrine) Iwanami-shinsho 259, Tokyo 1984, p. 67 f.
5) Shigeyoshi MURAKAMI, Kokka-shinto. (State Shintoism) Iwanami-shinsho C155, Tokyo 1970, p. 14 ff.
6) Strictly speaking, Confucianism is not a religion but a moral teaching. On the other hand, it has a strong religious character in a certain sense, because it appeals not mainly to reason but to emotion.
7) S. OHE, op. Cit. P. 78.
8) S. OHE, ibid.
9) On these circumstances see M. MARUYAMA, op. Cit. P. 43 ff.
10) See S. MURAKAMI, op. Cit., P. 137 f.

3. Ideology-critical analysis of the "kokutai"

So much for a reconstructed historical explanation of the "kokutai" ideology. Now I would like to enumerate some strategies (11) in this ideology, which certainly show a certain commonality with other ideologies.

1) The naturalization of the artificial

As I have already shown, State Shintoism was an artificially newly created religion, but it took over all the already existing ways of thinking that were deeply anchored in the soul of the Japanese. With this he managed to avoid the impression of the unnatural. The conception of the state as a family, which was formed by a mixture of the European "theory of organisms" of society with traditional Confucian moral teaching, also helped. According to this sociomorphic idea (12) of the state, the Tenno is the head of the family and his subjects are infants. And since there is no need for politics in a family, the Japanese Empire also rejects all politics. The Tenno himself embodies a natural order as an "authority that has always come from an uninterrupted lineage". (13)
The ideological effect of this naturalization strategy lies, as I indicated at the beginning, in preventing the awareness of reality and fallacies with the help of the camouflage of "naturalness."

2) Immunization Strategy (14)

Every ideology more or less employs the strategy of immunizing itself against any possible criticism and thus protecting itself against the risk of failure. The kokutai ideology thus avoids any definition and scientific theorization. Not only the core of the "kokutai" ideology remained unclear, but also the question of who had political responsibility. Since the Tenno is a god, he should stand beyond inner-world politics. His words should stand above every philosophical doctrine, above every controversial problem: One can only interpret one's "true will". With this, the Japanese political system before the war was completed as the system of "gigantic irresponsibility". (15)
This leads to a debate about the Tenno's responsibility for war, which is still hotly debated today.

3) religionization of politics

In the Japanese political system, which was based on the unity of religion and politics, the creation myth was considered a story, a fact. The slogan "our kokutai, incomparable with all countries," gave the Japanese the illusion that Japan was the chosen country and that they had a happy fate, even if the current situation was bad. Japan's claim to leadership in East Asia was justified by this awareness of being chosen.

4) Monopolization of "justice" and "truth"

The religionization of politics brought at the same time the monopoly of "justice". As long as Japan saw itself as a unique state in the world, the international relationship was seen as an intercourse between the moral state of Japan and other, non-moral countries Knowledge of justice concerns, "was in principle incapable of doing this as a result of belonging to a foreign nation and race" (17). This led, on the one hand, to a sense of mission to instruct other countries through the territorial expansion of Tenno rule in order to realize the idea of ​​"four world regions under one roof" and, on the other hand, to the tendency to demonize all enemies. (This is reminiscent of the slogan "Americans and English are human devils" used during the war).

5) Empty formulas

I have tried to show that the 'kokutai' ideology was at the core of the entire Japanese Tenno system of rule before the SecondWorld War was; However, if you look closely, it consists of an always ambiguous, almost meaningless dogma and so many possible interpretations that you can derive any, often contradicting, positions from this idea. This means that this ideology is nothing more than a system of 'empty formulas', which Topitsch describes as follows: "Each (group) claims that they and only they grasp the 'true meaning' of those expressions. A kind of competition ensues about the - nonexistent - "true meaning" of the empty formulas, whereby the historical success decides which of the fighting groups can enforce their view ". "But precisely in so far as they combined the pathos of 'absoluteness' with practically unlimited manipulability, these formulas achieved their world-historical success". These empty forms "can also, through their constant wording, simulate a constancy of the highest moral-political principles, while in reality they are compatible with every possible normative order and practical decision". (18)

11) On various ideological strategies, see a series of analyzes by K. SALAMUN: Ideology Science Politics. Social Philosophical Studies. Graz / Vienna / Cologne 1975 p. 16 ff.
12) On this term see E. TOPITSCH, Vom Ursprung und Ende der Metaphysik. (1958), dtv. Munich 1972, p. 29 f. See also his essay "Historicism and its overcoming", partly printed in Kurt LENK (Ed.), Ideologie Ideologiekritik und Wissenssoziologie. 9th edition Frankfurt / New York 1984 p. 75 ff.
13) Shozo FUJITA, Tennosei kokka no shihai-genri. (The rule of the Tenno state), 2nd ed. Tokyo 1987, p. 193.
14) Hans ALBERT, treatise on critical reason. (1968), 4th edition, Tübingen 1980, passim.
15) Cf. M. MARUYAMA, loc. Cit., P. 52.
16) See S. FUJITA, loc. Cit., P. 15.
17) E. TOPITSCH, Knowledge and Illusion. Basic structures of our worldview. 2. revised and exp. Aufl. Tübingen Mohr, 1988, p. 297. Topitsch speaks here in his context about the immunization strategy of the so-called "German" science. Here, too, one can find a certain strategic similarity between Japanese and National Socialist ideology.
18) E. TOPITSCH, On empty formulas. In the S. (Ed.): Problems of the philosophy of science. Festschrift for Victor Kraft. Vienna 1958, p. 263 f.

closing remarks

The political system of the Tenno rule ended with the defeat of the war. But I wonder if we can really determine the end of myth, the end of ideology. At the moment this question does not seem to be unjustified, because Tenno Hirohito has been seriously ill for 3 months (19) and the mental situation in Japan is nowadays quite unusual under this influence; Celebrations are canceled "voluntarily", regardless of whether they are personal weddings or regular public ceremonies; People in all professions, even mannequins in department stores, "voluntarily" put on dark, inconspicuous clothes; funny and festive entertainment programs are disappearing from television programs and not even songs are broadcast that contain words such as "death", "life" or "farewell" in the text; several entertainment companies went bankrupt in a row. Talking about the foreseeable future of Japan and the imperial family (after the passing of Tenno Hirohito) is strictly taboo, as in the time before the war. The Tenno was depoliticized after the war; today he is only a "symbol" of the nation; but the current situation in Japan worries me that, and not because of Tenno Hirohito alone, we still have a latent tendency to revert to that dark period before the war. It is about the "voluntary" suspension of "freedom of speech" and the silent pressure from society that forces all people to do so. It is not about the institutional problem of who has the sovereignty of Japan, how about the objection of the Japanese Foreign Ministry to the articles of English vulgar newspapers "Hell's Waiting for this Truly Evil Emperor" (The Sun) or "The Sinking Sun of Evil "(Daily Star) is hotly debated in Japan. The Tenno is not a head of state, just a symbol of the nation, and sovereignty rests only with the people - there is no need to discuss that. But has that spiritual attitude and mentality of the Japanese and their ideological apparatus been settled, which drove Japan into the world war? Rather, what one should consider here is the "coming to terms with the past" in Japan and the emotional need of the Japanese to want the existence of holiness and transcendence not only in everyday life but also in politics. The Tenno no longer has any institutional power, but for many Japanese people it still sits in the center of Japan spiritually. According to the surviving family conception of the state, many people see the Tenno as if he were their own father or grandfather. So we Japanese should be very careful not to allow this "absoluteness" and "holiness" that the Tenno possesses to be reintroduced into politics. If we Japanese do not want to return to totalitarianism in the broader sense, we have to know that this "absoluteness" and "holiness" in the political milieu, where some legitimacy is always sought because of the assertion of interests and power by different parties, has unlimited, arbitrary manipulability that can easily be exploited by those in power.

19) Shortly after this article was submitted, the Japanese Emperor Hirohito passed away. On January 7th, 1989, the motto> Showa <, which expressed the time of the throne of the late Tenno and was used as a calendar in Japan, ended. From January 8, 1989, the new era began with the new motto> Heisei <. Looking back at Showa with sadness and mixed feelings, the author hopes that the motto "Heisei", according to its literal translation, will mean "realization of peace."