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weird Japanese pre-and-post-WW-II metaphysics

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weird Japanese pre-and-post-WW-II metaphysics

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the return of fishboy
This is me just sort of rambling on and sort of re-examining a theory I'd been carrying: it's unlikely to be of great interest to anybody who isn't dgenerator or feyandstrange, but hey, look if you wish.

So pre-WW2, for a thousand years, the emperor and his family were the very essence of the kami, descended into the flesh. The children of Ameratsu (the sun goddess). The emperors were certainly not a god as Western philosophy views it, but they were definitely more gods than not.

Hirohito dragged the nation into WW2 saying that it was Divine Will that Nihon expand her influence. And for a long while, the nations surrounding Japan were unable to make anybody think that there might be some question of whether God's will was right here or not- Manchuria was the only real hardship, 'till the US started to get busy across the Pacific. Then BLAMMO BLAMMO: two unholy weapons above and beyond anything that anybody could've imagined- two little point singularities of roiling plasma-phase hydrogen, and uranium spitting death into the lives of a good hundred thousand or more.

This is, obviously, not good.

Neal Stephenson makes the point, in the book Cryptonomicon, that to be a good Japanese, you HAD to go do the emperor's will. And the emperor's will suddenly started looking mightily fishy. Really rather... fallible. Which gods aren't supposed to be.

When Japan surrendered to the US, the emperor had to renounce his kami-hood: he's just a guy like you or I, as far as the state religon holds now (well, not the state religion anymore: after post-war mop-up, it's now the indigenous religion). Now, this upheaval is often represented, in Western literature, as a hardship- a horrifying overturn of the social order, a complete destruction of all things that were uniquely Japanese.
Of course...
...it might have been for Japan's best to say 'Okay, that guy we were following around doing all this crazy-ass shit? Yeah, he's NOT a god. Nope. NOT A GOD. You got that? Good. the Kami are just fine, all the metaphysics of the next world are clean and pure and unsullied still. it's this schmendrick over here who's got egg on his face, not Ameratsu and the pantheon'. To my perspective, this may well have answered a GREVIOUS amount of doubts that the Japanese people had, and allowed them to pull it together and get their shit running again, rather than floundering around, wondering why the gods were so deeply fallible.
  • physics and meta

    It's been my observation that meta-physics tends to be fashioned after the physical influences. I don't think the Japanese people were floundering because their meta-physics was upheaved, I think their meta-physics represented the upheaval of being occupied and forcibly made to accept a western democracy and constitution that was completely alien to them.
    • Re: physics and meta

      And I think they might've been floundering even more, had the theory that the emperor was himself divine and infallible not been debunked so effectively. I find it interesting that there's a lot of representation in western writing on Japan that the imperial gelding was such a tragedy- but looked at in the right light (see the other comments to this entry) it was actually a boon to the people.
  • Interesting idea

    I'm not sure how well it holds up, however. The 'Emperor as God with Temporal Power' is a fairly recent thing, stemming more from the Meiji Restoration than from what was going on for almost a thousand years before. Until then the Emperor did have varying degrees of power, it's true, but nothing approaching the scale of the European monarchs in the 'Divine Right of Kings' era. Certainly the Japanese elite, while using the Imperial Throne as a source of legitimacy for their own powers, often played silly buggers with the succession, forcing retirements, deliberately picking weak candidates, etc.

    The big step in the pre-WWII era was mass communication combined with a 'modern' state religion. Up until then, the 'common folk' really didn't have much to do with the emperor. He was literally as remote as a god, but not one you prayed to. That was what the amida buddah was for (or to a lesser degree any of the other buddahs or local kami). Following the Restoration, the government made a very deliberate decision to create an official Japanese national religion, aka 'State Shinto' to which everyone had to subscribe, regardless of their true beliefs. They backed it with modern mass communication: newspapers, telegraphs, and eventually radio, and a modern PR campaign of bringing the emperor out of seclusion and portraying him as an Emperor in the European sense.

    The net result was to drive the idea of the 'Emperor as God' down into the masses. Without the knowledge of a thousand years of counterbalancing views, this idea took root over a generation, and by the time WWII rolled around, no doubt the masses did believe the Emperor was some sort of god. The government, and the military, did not, and still used Hirohito as a source of legitimacy for their own power struggles, both internal and external.

    This seems to me to be a lot closer to the 'Great Man' developments in Germany and Italy, where a state religion (for all intents and purposes) was combined with portrayal of a strong leader as infallible, and the masses subsequently inculcated with this belief over a long period of time. The main difference was that the Japanese did it for something approaching seventy years.

    (As far as it being a relief, I'm sure it was, particularly for the educated Japanese who weren't in on the plot, and even for some who were.)
    • Re: Interesting idea

      Yeah- I think it was a relief to the common man that the propaganda fell apart. And I had honestly not realized how extremely 'emperor-is-a-god' was a product of 19th century militarism, though you and ghormenghast have nudged me on this- and thank you.
      I forgot that you were something of a nihonophile, as well. Sorry. ;)
  • Well, it's an interesting idea, but not quite accurate historically. Prior to the westernization of Japan (and specifically the Constitution of 1868), the Emperor had been seen as a distant, semi-mythological figure with little or no political function. Indeed, during the time of the Shogunate, many ordinary Japanese didn't even know who the Emperor was at any given time. And for centuries, he was pretty much irrelevant except in his religious role as head of the Amaterasu cult. Veneration of the Emperor (or even considering him a 'leader') came out of the 19th century institution of State Shinto, which elevated the Emperor to a symbol of real authority as opposed to the sheltered recluses of the past. This was the REAL shake-up of Japanese society, and was quite the scandal in its day. When the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, and the Emperor with it, *that* was the end of Japan's classical Imperial tradition. It's interesting, and more than a little ironic that Westernization was, in fact, a large part of how Japan became so intensely militaristic. Placing the Emperor at the center of national politics, it placed the idea of the Japanese people's descent from the Gods as a pillar of their national identity.. and of course, if you're descended from the Gods themselves, why not invade that little bit of China and take your rightful place there?
    Something to chew on.
    • A: okay, see, this is why I wanted to bounce it off folks who knew Japanese history better than I. Thank you for shedding light onto my mistakes. :)
      B: didn't realize you were as interested in Japanese history as you apparently are- I'll be sure and include you in the list of people who will find such reflections interesting, in future. ;)
    • Please do :) I wrote a paper on this subject, so I obviously find it interesting.
    • They were fascinated by everything Western, including our creepy rascist theories and the use of Nationalism in modern military states like late 19th century Germany.

      I have heard that the Emporer was actually against WWII, along with the navy, but the military had so much control of the government and the release of information that they were able to fix the idea that Hirohito wanted it in the minds of ordinary people. The army made it look like those in charge were united in the desire for War when actually all the bright people knew they were going to lose.
      • They were indeed fascinated by the Western complex- a lot of it they coopted and said was their own, and a lot of it they decried as evidence of the decadence of european culture.
      • I have heard that the Emporer was actually against WWII, along with the navy, but the military had so much control of the government and the release of information that they were able to fix the idea that Hirohito wanted it in the minds of ordinary people. The army made it look like those in charge were united in the desire for War when actually all the bright people knew they were going to lose.

        I'd read this too and wondered about it. But what blows me away is that you guys are actually having this conversation here -- makes my journal seem so trivial and girly, like some kind of female blot to your intelligent discourse on Japan and their involvement in WWII.
        • Naaah- it's just a good place to let people with a common interest chime in. If that interest is home decoration, or post-WWII Japan, it's still the same thing, neh?
        • I'd read this too and wondered about it. But what blows me away is that you guys are actually having this conversation here -- makes my journal seem so trivial and girly, like some kind of female blot to your intelligent discourse on Japan and their involvement in WWII

          Er...WTF?

          I have literally linear meters of books on Japanese history, and the book nearest my bedside is The Origins of Japan's Medieval World. Right next to the brit motorcycle mags, the manual for my new motorcycle, a copy of Charlie Stross' The Atrocity Archives which is the BOFH meets Lovecraft, and twelve issues of Kare Kano.

          I don't think 'female blot' has anything to do with it. People are interested in different things. Some blogs are silly, and some aren't, and both have value. Unless of course you're just taking the piss. 'Oooh, look at those big manly men talk history and sociology.'

          Really, everyone's invited. Or at least I'm fairly sure that's what colubra would say.
          • Exactly: I wouldn't throw the question out if I didn't want people's input on it.
            And while my original theory's sort of disproven- the people-in-general didn't have a few hundred years of imagining that the Emperor was a god- it is good to have a firmer basis in how this works. :)

            BTW, mkellis: if you're looking for a good read on shinto in the community, I'm really enjoying 'A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine', which is what prompted this post. You've most likely already read it, but if you haven't, I'd strongly recommend it.
            • You've most likely already read it, but if you haven't, I'd strongly recommend it.

              I've seen it, but I don't have it around here. I think. Still haven't unpacked all the books from the move. Actually, I might have it.

              Wow, that's sad.
              • Naah- 'I'm not sure if I have it because it's not on a shelf, where I can look at it' makes perfect sense.
                'I have three copies because it's out of print, and that's the fiction I'm going to stick with, instead of the idea that I keep forgetting I already have it'?
                THAT'S sad. It's also me and John Crowley's novel Little, Big.
  • I think that much of the floundering had to do with realizing that that they had spent so many years following that creep around, thinking he was infallible, and then sacrificing so much for his name, only to find out that not only was he fallible, he was a creep. I think much of it has to do with a public feeling of embarrassment and shame, rather than actual soul-searching. Which is a shame, really, because they probably could have used some at that point.

    -K
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