The atmosphere continues to be tense and we are still being advised not to walk about, In the morning of the 15th, some discontented officers, it is said, went hunting for Suzuki and Hiranuma, the president of the privy council; not finding them at home, they burned their houses. A Japanese interpreter at the embassy says that the soldiers in the barracks near his home are sharpening their swords. More pamphlets are being dropped; some say that the Tenno was badly advised and that at any rate his rescript did not forbid those who want to from continuing, the war on on their own; other pamphlets says that the Tenno is so good and so unselfish that every Japanese should continue to fight for him. In direct answer to these attempts a special rescript was issued today to the army and the navy. “Ye servicemen!” it appeals. “We command that ye leave intact the lasting foundation of Our state, fully comprehending Our wishes, maintaining solid unity, clarifying your entry into and retirement from service, conquering a thousand difficulties, and enduring the unendurable.”
Once again it seems, the emperor is the center of conflict. Can he assert his authority as commander-in-chief and enforce surrender? Will his authority survive surrender? How real is his authority? Since the foundation of Japan as a modern state, and particularly since its conversion into a military state, the warlords and the sealords have preached and propagated the legend of an omnipotent and sacred sovereign, whose imperial prerogative of supreme command sheltered their independence from parliamentary budget committees, bureaucratic jealousy and popular suspicion. Now that they have lost control of the emperor and are impaled on their own lie, will they submit gracefully to the unexpected estoppel?
A revolution by military fanatics is not so unthinkable as may be thought. The last rebellion in modern Japanese history, that of Saigo in 1877, was a protest against the abolition of the samurai by the new imperial government. Saigo failed but history records at least seven reigning emperors who were killed or dethroned by their good and loyal subjects. Anko the 20th Tenno was stabbed by a child with his own sword while he slept with his head on the empress’ lap. Sushun the 32nd was murdered by a Chinese cloth-peddler at the instigation of his own uncle. Kobun the 39th, defeated in battle by a rival claimant, again an uncle, was dethroned and committed suicide. Junnin the 47th was dethroned by his own mother, sent into exile under conditions so intolerable that he escaped, and then captured and killed. Yozei the 57th, ascending the throne at the age of 10 and going mad at 17, compelled a man to ascend a tree and then stabbed him among the branches. The regent and the ministers thereupon dethroned him. Antoku the 81st, a child of six, was carried by the fleeing Taira to their doomed fleet and, in the arms of his grandmother, perished in the Inland Sea. Chukyo the 85th, a babe of two, lost his throne to the 86th, a boy of 10.
These were the more unfortunate. Others contrived to keep their tenuous and doubtful dignities against the rebellion of brothers, half-brothers, brothers-in-law, all along the range of relatives by consanguinity and affinity. Keitai the 26th, dispatching an expedition to Korea, found the way blocked by a treacherous noble who set up his own imperial court in Kyushu and received tribute from the Korean kingdoms. His predecessor Muretsu the 25th had previously faced a great rebellion by another noble family whose scion, not content with bearing arms against his sovereign, also wooed and his lady-love. Shujaku the 61st, a child of eight, was threatened by the simultaneous revolt of the pirate Sumitomo and the robber baron Masakado, who claimed sovereignty over the Kanto by virtue of his military prowess. The great Meiji, founder of modern Japan, had to cope with a “republic” proclaimed by the admiral of the deposed shogun.
Some sovereigns or sovereigns-to-be barely escaped with their lives. The two brothers, later Kenso the 23rd Tenno and Ninken the 24th, had to hide as menials in a provincial granary for 24 years before they dared to announce their rank and lineage at a drunk revel where they acted as torch-bearers. Three Tennos had to flee disguised as women. One of them, Go-Daigo the 96th, had to have recourse to this shameful expedient twice. Pursued by the forces of a usurper, he went three days without food, slept with a rock for a pillow, was caught and exiled, escaped in a palanquin ostensibly containing a lady about to give birth, hid in the bottom of a boar under seaweed and the feet of common sailors, eventually regained his throne but was again so sorely threatened that, having been imprisoned, he regained his liberty only by slipping through a broken fence in woman’s dress. Go-Daigo thereupon set up the Southern Court with which a Northern Court engaged in a “war of the dynasties” lasting all of 55 years, during which the Japanese had two rival Tennos.
Yet, if these misadventures show that the emperors have not been so sacred and inviolable as both law and legend would have the Japanese believe them, they also prove the unequalled tenacity of the imperial tradition. Not even the papacy can rival it in power and persistence. It survived fratricide and disputed title, failure of direct descent and parental caprice. One Tenno chose his successor by comparing the dreams of the candidates. The winner in turn chose his by asking his children what they preferred. The elder answered: “a bow and arrows.” The younger was selected because he asked for “the empire.” Go-Toba the 82nd Tenno was nominated to the succession because, called into the imperial presence of his father, he laughed while his elder brother wept.
Somehow the line survived. It survived the religious wars of the sixth century when an epidemic of smallpox was blamed on the importation of Buddhism with the agnostic consent of Bidatsu the 30th Tenno. When the complaisant Bidatsu ordered the new pagoda burned, the image of the Buddha thrown into a canal, and his nuns flogged, and the pestilence continued to rage, he was again blamed for incurring the wrath of Buddha and the situation was saved only by a palace revolution.
The line survived the dishonor of a frivolous cruelty. Yuryaku the 21st was such a monster that, happening to see a carpenter so skillful he never chipped with his axe a stone he used for a ruler, he asked the man whether he never made a mistake. “Never,” replied the carpenter. Whereupon Yuryaku ordered his ladies-in-waiting to dance before the carpenter clad only in loin-cloths. The poor man was so disturbed than when he resumed work he chipped the stone. The emperor then condemned him to death and granted a reprieve only when one of the carpenters’ fellow-workers improvised a couplet. But Muretsu the 25th did not have these saving graces; his pleasures were more direct; he plucked out the hair of his subjects or tore out their finger-nails and compelled them to dig up yams with their mutilated hands.
The line also survived the insanity of the 57th and Taisho the 123rd, father of the reigning sovereign. It survived the scandalous infatuations of the Empress Koken, the 46th Tenno, who afterwards left the convent to reascend the throne as Shotoku. She fell in love first with one of her ministers and then with a priest, for whose sake she deposed her own son and to whom she allowed such imperial liberties that he might have achieved his ambition of ascending the throne himself had she not died.
In the dark ages of the civil wars the line survived neglect and poverty so extreme that the 103rd Tenno, Go-Tsuchimikado, could not be buried for 40 days and his successor, Go-Kashiwabara, could not be crowned for 20 years, for lack of funds. When this Tenno died his funeral was so poor that his ashes were slung in a box from an officer’s neck and only 26 officials attended. The coronation of his successor, Go-Nara, had in turn to wait upon a subscription from charitable provincial magnates. He lived in a palace so dilapidated by war and weather that it had only bamboo fences which could not keep out the lower classes who drank tea in the imperial garden. The ladies-in-waiting had no summer garments and had to wear their winter-robles without the wadded linings; courtiers died of cold and starvation; the emperor himself had to make copies of Chinese classics for anyone who might ask and leave a few coins in payment.
But above all the line survived the almost total usurpation of its powers and prerogatives. From the dawn of legend into history in the sixth century, only a handful of emperors have actually ruled the Japanese. Always they have been the golden screens for the real masters of the land. The elegant Sogas and Fujiwaras governed through the imperial couch and later through the imperial cradle; they furnished the wives and concubines of the emperors and later exercised their uterine despotism through child-emperors. The tough steel-clad military families of the Taira, the Minamoto, the Hojo, the Ashikaga, and the Tokugawa, had no difficulty in securing imperial sanction for their conquests on the battlefield. The military genius Hideyoshi, although content with the title regent, was in fact taken by Western missionaries and envoys as king of Japan. So empty did imperial sovereignty become that the emperors themselves abdicated as as possible to rule their sons and grandsons from the theoretical seclusion of the cloister.
Perhaps this powerlessness was the secret of adaptability just as adaptability was the secret of survival. Why bother to dethrone a puppet? The gigantic trusts –the Mitsui, the Mitsubishi, the Sumitomo, the Yasuda—the military cliques of chauvinists, neo-fascists, and “younger officers”, have been content to pull the strings, like those earlier warlords the Tokugawas who kept the emperors in unapproachable seclusion as divine ritualists.
The novelty of the present crisis is provided by the entrance of a foreign conqueror. The perennial contest for the custody and control of the sacred emperor is no longer restricted to his good and loyal subjects. If it were, there would indeed be danger of a revolution. The warlords might attempt to cut down the peace party as they did in 1931 and 1936. They might even, as history shows, attempt to dethrone and kill the emperor. But they know they are no longer masters even of their own swords. They have been defeated at their own game.
The probability therefore Is that the emperor’s order to surrender will be obeyed. It will be obeyed by the warlords because the authority of the emperor will be supported, not by the constitution or by racial superstition, but by the task force in Sagami bay and the B-29’s on Saipan. Will that authority survive surrender to a foreign foe and submission to the dictates of a foreign master? There is no reason why it should not. The Japanese have learned to reconcile realism with racial legend through many centuries of imperial puppetry. MacArthur will be just another Hideyoshi.
What then of the belief in the divinity of the emperor? Has it been mere illusion, pure hypocrisy? Today I asked a Japanese diplomat, formerly minister to a South American republic, how he reconciled his faith with the facts. His replies were just as illuminating as the volume of Brinkley which I had laid aside.
He himself, he said, did not believe in the personal divinity of the emperor. How could he? He was a cultured man who had learnt his lessons in biology and scientific history. Nor, he thought, did most Japanese believe it; they too had gone to school. Ignorant and superstitious peasants might take their Japanese Bible, literally but no one else did. But he and most of his countrymen did believe in the emperor as the incarnation of the Japanese nation, the living symbol of Japan. The emperor was Japan.
He was Japan and was therefore loved and reverenced as one loves and reverences one’s native country or the flag which symbolizes it. He was Japan and was therefore obeyed absolutely as the supreme embodiment of the power of the state. The personality of such a symbol complicated matters; a flag as no mind of its own; a Constitution cannot be captured, frightened, wheedled, or “misled”. But it also humanized the machinery of the modern state.
The Japanese felt for the emperor as they felt for themselves and for their race, and as they would never feel for a flag, a constitution, or a cabinet. His defeat was their defeat; his humiliation, also theirs; they shared his joy and suffering. This was the secret of those endless streams of people who prostrated themselves on the burning asphalt of the imperial plaza in an access of personal grief. They wept for themselves and for their children. When they murmured: “Moshiwake arimasen (I have nothing to say)”, the classic phrase of apology beyond excuse or justification, they were overwhelmed by the ruin that had engulfed them and their posterity. And when they performed the melancholy ritual of the ultimate apology, the apology by suicide, it was because they felt that the life of their race was at an end.