When people listen to the word, “emperor,” people would imagine lavish lifestyle, which means Western sense of the Emperor. Basil Hall Chamberlain, who was the professor of the Imperial University of Tokyo, was appalled at the transition of the age, Meiji period, and noted about it in a short essay called “The Invention of a New Religion.” Besides the details of what happened behind, what Mr. Chamberlain pointed out was the change of bureaucratic system to spread the worship of Mikado, or Tenno, which means the emperor in English term. He called the new system to worship Tenno, the Emperor, through educating military men and students in primary and secondary education, the Invention of a New Religion.
As Mr. Chamberlain points out, most of the intellectuals did not worship any religion in Japan. However, under Meiji regime, the bureaucrats suddenly formed a system to worship Tenno, the Emperor. The ordinary people, merchants or craftsmen did not have any knowledge of Tenno, the Emperor, until the end of Meiji Period.
After Meiji Restoration, the eligibility of Tenno(Imperial) system was created and became official under the name of Imperial House Law on February 11th, 1912. Under the new system, the emperor has to be male, and the position of Tenno, the Emperor, after one emperor passes away.
A lot or most of the Japanese people tend to believe the tradition which was created after Meiji Period, which was stipulated in 1912. However, looking at history, there are many cases in which the emperor abdicated the position and become retired Tenno, here in this essay. It is not too much to say that a lot of emperors abdicated the position of the emperor when he or she was alive.
A lot of people would wonder why the legal system which was established by Meiji Imperial System is still in effect. During Occupation of Japan under GHQ measure (1945-1952) Douglas MacArthur did not change the most important definition regarding Tenno, the Emperor, in the constitution. Douglas MacArthur first ordered bureaucrats to write the draft of the new constitution. However, they did not understand the importance of the change of the definition of the Emperor in the constitution. The Japanese bureaucrats kept on defining the Emperor as the supreme existence. Douglas MacArthur ordered to change the definition of the emperor from supreme to symbolic existence in the new constitution, acknowledging the true role of the Emperor throughout history. Douglas MacArthur knew that the Emperor was not a dictator of the country.
Besides the Constitution of Japan, old legal system from Meiji era was adopted in Japan in the post war era. That is one of the reasons why the Emperor abdicates the position when he passes away. Historically, the Meiji Imperial Government inherited the Imperial House Law from tradition of Tokugawa Regime from Edo Period. The ideology is based on Neo-Confucianism. Under Tokugawa Regime, the oldest son in the family has the right to inherit the throne and the throne must be inherited after Shogun passed away.
This tradition was adopted by Meiji Regime. No one wants to discuss this. Major media just discuss the “issues” of the current system, which is based on Tokugawa Regime. At the same time, the tradition that the eldest son “must” inherit the throne is not the tradition of the Imperial Household originally. It was decided by bureaucrats in Meiji Period. They adopted the system of Tokugawa Regime in the Imperial House Law.
Here, I would like to ask a question to those who read this blog. A lot of people believe that the Emperor is the emperor. What is the true role of the Emperor? The Emperor wakes up at 4 o’clock in the morning and does Shinto rituals. Historically, when there were conflicts among the clans, the emperor’s main role was to moderate the conflicts or confrontations among clans. The Emperor of Japan was never the Emperor as Douglas MacArthur understood during occupational period. Defining the Emperor as symbolic was the best description of the emperor, Tenno.
Now, the current Emperor’s wish is to abdicate his throne. Would you follow the tradition or created tradition after Meiji Period? The Emperor has the rights to abdicate the throne following the tradition of the Imperial System. At the same time, why cannot the female become the emperor of Japan? The Emperor is not a dictator. He is the symbol of Japanese culture.