the thought police -- 8/6/20

Today's encore selection -- from Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix. In 1928, Hirohito was enthroned as the new emperor of Japan. However, there was a growing skepticism regarding the deification of the emperor, along with new opposition to Japan's form of government by communists and other radicals -- especially with the onset of a severe economic recession. To counter this, the Japanese government planned an elaborate yearlong celebration of Hirohito's enthronement, including dramatic gestures of benevolence. And it simultaneously increased the number of officials engaged in "thought control":

"Meanwhile the attention of Hirohito and the court group was focusing increasingly on his forthcoming enthronement. ...

"The Showa enthronement rituals, festivities, and national unity banquets were planned and staged under recession conditions. ... After all, tradition and mythology helped to hold society together, despite its underlying conflicts.

"Technology was also harnessed to the glorification of the monarchy. In 1928, when the enthronement year began, Japan had entered the age of mass advertising and mass consumer culture. For nearly three years, regular nationwide radio broadcasts had been affecting public opinion and values. ...

"The government [also] appointed in all prefectures 'thought procurators' and 'special higher police.' The armed forces established their own 'military thought police,' and special Home Ministry police officials were assigned to work full-time on uncovering anti-kokutai 'conspiracies' being plotted by communists and other radicals. As a result, from 1928 onward the imperial state assumed a sterner attitude toward its critics. First, communists and leaders of the sectarian Shinto organizations of Omotokyo and Tenrikyo, which refused to recognize Amaterasu Omikami as a superior deity, were subjected to increased police surveillance and repression; later the surveillance was extended to liberal intellectuals in journalism and the universities. Thus the process of manufacturing a new emperor through ritual and propaganda went hand in hand with a major expansion and dispersion of the thought-control apparatus. ...

Japanese schoolchildren on parade, celebrating the enthronement of the new emperor and the birth of a new empire.

"Assisting the commission in this remaking of the monarchy were the still new and relatively independent mass media, mainly radio and newspapers, which rose to the occasion by instructing the nation on the meaning of the unfamiliar rites and celebrations that were planned. Japanese newspapers were expanding their circulation and becoming national rather than local and regional. Their reporters were anxious to ingratiate themselves with the central bureaucracy. So, too, were radio announcers, who, in reporting on the pageantry at Kyoto, were dependent on scripts prepared in advance by the Imperial Household Ministry.

"For a whole year, press and radio reported the ceremonies and rituals on a daily basis, day and night, throughout the home islands and in the Japanese colonies, as Hirohito and his entourage skillfully implemented the real lessons they had learned from King George V -- lessons not about the constraints of constitutionalism but the importance of state spectacle and ritual in enhancing the monarch's dignity and authority. ... Censoring itself whenever it was not censored by authority, the press never became a free voice of conscience for the Japanese nation.

"The enthronement rituals and ceremonies, from their start in January to their climax in early December 1928, helped to manufacture a new imperial image for the young emperor. ... The enthronement culminated during the months of November and December 1928. In November, in towns and cities in every prefecture and metropolitan district throughout the empire, hundreds of thousands of people took part in banquets and award ceremonies; millions of schoolchildren joined in flag parades and lantern festivals. Before the year ended the throne had dispensed millions of yen as an expression of imperial benevolence for the nation's poor, liberally awarded medals, granted titles, and bestowed posthumous decorations on historical figures from the thirteenth, fourteenth, and nineteenth centuries who were noted for loyalty to the throne. Also in the name of the emperor, the government reduced the sentences of 32,968 criminals, including the assassin of Hara Kei; commuted the punishments of 26,684 prisoners in the colonies; and granted special amnesty to another 16,878 prisoners."



Herbert P. Bix


Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan


Harper Perennial


Copyright 2000 by Herbert P. Bix


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