One opinion expressed by a member with samurai ancestry was that the Emperor should have committed seppuku (Japanese ritual suicide) immediately after the end of the war. Several people agreed. Others suggested that this would have caused a mass seppuku. They cited that under the Japanese bushido code, this would probably have been appropriate. I wonder what would have happened if Emperor Showa had committed seppuku after the war and whether he ever considered this. I assume that although he was technically bound by bushido, he was probably not educated in a strict bushido way...

There were other opinions that included someone pointing out that the Emperor did not choose to be the Emperor whereas Tojo and other military leaders chose their positions and should be more responsible for their actions.

25 Comments

Just to point out, in contrapunct to the last paragraph: if the emperor assumes the rights and duties of the emperor, he must also assume the responsibilites. And if the emperor is puppetted by the military well then... he's not really doing his people any good now is he?

(just saying what comes to mind since I am not terribly familiar with WW2 japan/etc)

Just randomly reading on wikipedia, I read about Mishima Yukio, an Japanese author who did exactly that.... but still it was in the 70's when he did it. Is it illegal to do that in Japan, i mean killing oneself....

As the writer of a screenplay on Yukio Mishima's final years, I believe that Mishima killed himself in part to atone for the Emperor's lack of sacrifice after the war. Mishima was horrified that just a few months after sending Kamikaze to fight that the Emperor then submitted to a foreign power, and turned his back on Japan's martial past. Mishima's act was the final sacrifice that allowed closure of that era.

In the West we tend to think of suicide as a sinful act, yet it could be argued that Jesus Christ, the main figure in our history, commited suicide by willingly letting himself be sacrifided for the sins of others. There is therefore an interesting parallel between Christ and Mishima: They both killed themselves to atone for another person's sins, and in doing so marked a watershed between two differnet ages.

I assume that the Emperor has no clue in Samurai codes. He's actually belong to the royal family and the Kyoto aristocracy tradition, not to Edo Samurai tradtion, I guess. Therefore, his way of having responsibility should not be seppuku.

I think that, for most samurais, the Bushido Code was a form of peer pressure by the samurai culture. The fact that he just 'floated down a turbulent river of history' makes me think he is of more buddhist mindset than that of a samurai. If he indeed was a samurai, then he would have attacked the warmongers who were putting words into his mouth. I consider that more shameful than not taking one's life for losing a war he didn't start.

I assume that the Emperor has no clue in Samurai codes. He's actually belong to the royal family and the Kyoto aristocracy tradition, not to Edo Samurai tradtion, I guess.

Yes, as a member of the 公家 ("Kuge") I don't see why he should have been bound by the ethical code of the samurai class. That he ought to have incurred some stiffer penalty for the war than merely renouncing his divinity is worth arguing, but I don't see how dying by the very samurai code which caused the war in the first place would have solved anything.

If we are to believe Herbert Bix's thesis, Hirohito was not only an active participant in the prosecution of the war but was trained from an early age to carry out the project begun by the Meiji Emperor. The idea that others usurped power to start the war was (according to Bix) propagated after the fact to smooth things over for the American occupation.

I am not an expert in these things by a longshot, but I am under the impression that a lot of what we think of as bushido was a fabrication, or at least blown out of proportion by latter-day militarists. Giving Kamikaze pilots the Hagakure, for example, though the Hagakure was not so important in its own time.

The best for Japan, the world, Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have been if he commited sebukko BEFORE the war.
It's like amida said: "Giving Kamikaze pilots the Hagakure, for example, though the Hagakure was not so important in its own time." Bushido was part of the propaganda.

Joi,
Maybe I'm off on this, but I seem to recall that a famous Japanese general committed suicide when the Meiji emperor died. I suspect the fear of a mass suicide was justified. How many actually committed suicide anyway? My grandfather, who fought the Japanese in WWII, told me that it was routine to find many, many suicides as the battle for an island wore down and the Japanese military situation became increasingly desperate. (By the way, my grandfather was not trying to belittle the Japanese in any way in recalling this; he felt that the Japanese battled with a ferocity and sense of emotional dedication that was out of another age. As he put it, 'the last time Westerners went into battle like this, they were called Crusaders.')

It seems obvious to me (without really knowing the history well enough to offer a truly qualified comment) that the Emperor did what he did because it was the right thing to do for the people of Japan. I can see why he might have considered killing himself even if he wasn't bound by the samurai code. In many ways it would have been the easiest way for him personally to escape his predicament.

However, the symbolic effect of Hirohito killing himself would have been very different from Hitler's suicide and I think that this is the reason that he did not do it. The Emperor killing himself would have been a signal to the Japanese people that although the Palace had been taken, the honour and the majesty of the Empire was still alive and that the war continued. The struggle against occupation could certainly have continued in a different form, perhaps a guerilla war fought outside the cities.

However, such a war would almost certainly have resulted in slow starvation and misery for the majority of the Japanese people. The emperor must have seen that such a struggle would be ultimately unwinnable and that the only realistic option was to symbolically lead Japan into peace and prosperity. He must have been aware as well that without his leadership, Japan would probably fracture once again into many kingdoms, reducing the stature of Japan as a whole and completely defeating what had been the purpose of the war in the first place.

For a non-expert like me, the Imperial rescript on surrender is worth reading in some detail to understand the rationale for surrender. Most notably, he suggests that his ultimate duty is to the people of Japan (rather than to the concept of the Empire, which is what held the loyalty of the Samurai).

All my humble opinion of course, I am no expert.

Had the Emperor committed seppuku under the early US occupation would there have been another Emperor? Wouldn't that have derailed a lot of other traditions?

The best for Japan, the world, Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have been if he commited sebukko BEFORE the war.
It's like amida said: "Giving Kamikaze pilots the Hagakure, for example, though the Hagakure was not so important in its own time." Bushido was part of the propaganda.

Joi,

Japan went into the second world-war with Nazi. Terrible things happened in China, Hiroshima, and other places.

The last several postings comming out from the meeting attended by top Japanese leaders, reading between lines, reveal and explain how that could and did happen, sadly; provincial and Japanese leaders did not know and think, perhaps, that is in line with the Samurai spirit, true Japanese traditions, which some of them are proud of and want to retain, amazing.
Is this out of line?

mi

"that a famous Japanese general committed suicide when the Meiji emperor died"

That was General Nogi, Hirohito's military mentor (along with Adm Togo).

The question of Hirohito committing ritual suicide after the surrender is somewhat odd to me.

One, it is used to atone for failure to one's lord. Hirohito was the apex of the fealty tree, and a living kami to those who believed in the traditional Japanese spirtuality.

Part of Hirohito's surrender address to the nation was to "bear the unbearable". Seppuku would refute that.

As the current Head of State from the unbroken (ha-ha) Imperial Line going back to antiquity, I would think seppuku would not be part of the office.

Plus I agree with the above that Hirohito was not "samurai", but "court nobility" in the Confucian scheme of things. The Court lives by different rules than the samurai.

Antoin, Japanese seppuku is slightly different than a suicide. It is involves taking responsibility. The speech that the Emperor gave over the radio in Japan about the defeat already announced to the people that Japan had lost. People were actually happy it was over. The idea (which I'm not necessarily sure about by the way) was that he should have committed seppuku right after that speech and then.

The way it was explained to me was that the Emperor as bound by bushido as the head of Japan. Losing a war and sending in kamikaze, according to one expert would be a valid reason for seppuku.

As for Bix... I've talked to various people who know more than me and the consensus that I've found was that he overstates his conclusions, but the general thesis that the Emperor's role was understated by the American's is true.

Another point someone brought up was how the US tends to keep beaten leaders around... like Khadafi, the Japanese Emperor and even Hussein.

>keep beaten leaders around

The difference is the Head of State and Head of Government divide.

(Hitler was a Head of Government who usurped the Head of State role. He would not have survived WW2 had the US rolled into Berlin.)

We had insufficient leverage in Libyan and Iraqi affairs 1981-2003 to effect a removal of those leaders, and in the 1945 case enough respect for the European model of parliamentary governance that we could work with the Emperor as Head of State... no need to ditch the pre-existing Constitutional framework entirely.

>that the Emperor as bound by bushido as the head of Japan

Still disagree about this, though I'm no "expert". The Showa emperor was also Head of the [Shinto] "Church" and Head of the Imperial Household, and not in any way a member of the samurai class. The word 'samurai' itself makes no sense in reference to the Emperor.

I also think the decisions for war were made /in/ the Emperor's name. The only decision that is on Hirohito's head is the decision to surrender.

I'm not sure which side of the revisionist history sides I fall on, but I do think Hirohito was more of an unwilling participant than a prime mover in the 1925-45 period. There was a great power vacuum in E Asia 1900-1930, and once Germany took out the British and Dutch, combined with the lingering Depression that laid the US economy low, this power vacuum appeared in the French & Dutch colonial holdings.

It would have taken a very strong Head of State to hold back the Army and zaibatsu interests in the 1930-40 period, and the constitutional order as exercised under the Meiji and Taisho emperors did not afford this degree of governmental power.

It is probably difficult for westerners to understand that suicide is an act of selfishness. To me, it is an exit, an expression of defiance, a destruction of billions through destruction of me. Does a tree falling without an observer make a sound? If the observer is dead, does he kill the sound of all the trees around him?

A part of me feel shame that very few Koreans have committed suicide when Japan invaded Korea without much of a fight. Another part of me wonders what I would I have done. I know that it would have been selfish to 'express' my anger and shame at the cost of abandoning my wife and son to face the world without me.

Deep thoughts and shallow humors do not balance the metalic coolness of the 'now'. Wondering and pondering gives no breath to promise of breakfast. But a sliver of shame is what I find myself enjoying.

Don: Although I don't agree with it, I think that in Japanese bushido, it's more than than just selfishness. I think that MANY suicides are just selfish and cowardly, but I don't think that was the point of ritual suicide.

I have to admire the Emperor for taking a courageous decision that ultimately led to the prosperous and happy times that lay ahead.

Embracing nationalistic pride would have resulted in a dramatically different occupation and a vastly different 20th century.

Indeed, in the end, Japan underwent a miraculous transformation. I've felt that the strength in post-war Japan came from the categorical discrediting of the old ruling classes and bushi.

It is an interesting hypothesis; but I don't think the bushido code would have applied to the emperor. He was the emperor; not some bushi! He made no mistakes! How could he "take responsibility?" Some of those around him did however take that opportunity and effectively assumed responsibility. This did satisfy bushido, because this expresses the sincerity of servitude. But it does not make sense that the emperor commits seppuku after declaring defeat. He serves no one. It would have made more sense to do so before declaration. Which would entail mass suicide. In a more "ideal" setting, he would have been killed.

It was a no-brainer; things had to change. It seems to me that Hirohito took the path of least resistance.

"I've felt that the strength in post-war Japan came from the categorical discrediting of the old ruling classes and bushi."

Disagree. Very little changed or has changed.

The Emperor should have been prosecuted for war crimes. Because he wasn't the Tokyo Trial was a sham. Because he was kept in place and the Americans needed the old militarists and conservatives to fight off the threat of communism, democracy started off with a rather stunted growth and hasn't straightened itself out over time.

The strength in postwar Japan is the same strength that was around in prewar and wartime Japan: sacrificing everything for the good of the national cause and knowing your place.

I've been reading a joint biography of Kurosawa and Mifune (The Emperor and the Wolf, Stuart Galbraith), and it talks about the expectation at the end of the war that everyone in Japan would be asked to commit suicide, and how shopkeepers were sitting out in front of their shops with swords across their laps. Kurosawa and other directors had decided that if the word came down -- first they would go assassinate the film censors! Anyway -- I think Kurosawa's Yojimbo is the perfect antidote to talk of bushido.

In reply to Mark's remark "In the West we tend to think of suicide as a sinful act, yet it could be argued that Jesus Christ, the main figure in our history, committed suicide by willingly letting himself be sacrificed for the sins of others. There is therefore an interesting parallel between Christ and Mishima: They both killed themselves to atone for another person's sins, and in doing so marked a watershed between two different ages." You are missing the crucial difference between those acts.

Christ's act was blameless because he did not do it Himself. It fact the was the driving motivation for the Pharisees to crucify Him was because he claimed to be God and would not renounce that claim under any circumstance. So he simply allowed it and he did not in anyway need to take the initiative to bring that crucifiction. As where suicide is actually an act of cowardness and a desire to avoid facing the humiliation associating with being taking captive or knowing that you were unable to win. Christ went through all of that humiliation to make His sacrifice, because He knew all that suffering and humiliation meant a victory over death. He was not concerned with sacrificing to prevent agony and shame, but His victory actually came out of that agony and shame, He had a higher purpose.

"The Emperor should have been prosecuted for war crimes. Because he wasn't the Tokyo Trial was a sham. Because he was kept in place and the Americans needed the old militarists and conservatives to fight off the threat of communism, democracy started off with a rather stunted growth and hasn't straightened itself out over time."

Radical change isn't always the best change. Conservative democracy respects Japan's cultural history while keeping the reactionary elements at bay.

I'm sure there's plenty of room for improvement... but Japan's democracy certainly fared better than Sun Yat-Sen's Nationalist party in China.

I think I remember reading somewhere back when I was in boarding school, that McArthur would not of allowed the Emperor to commit seppuku even if he wanted to. The Emperor was invaluable in transforming Japan into the parliamentary system it is today, without him, McArthur would not of been as successful as he was in the rebuilding of Japan after WWII. Again, I was in my senior year of secondary school when I read this so I could be wrong...but the success that Japan enjoyed post WWII is directly correlative to the continuity offered by the Emperor's example in this transitional phase.

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