Emperor Hirohito in 1946, one year after he stopped being 'divine.'

by Colin Liddell

Today (April 29th) is Showa Day here in Japan. This is a national holiday, held in honour of the Emperor Hirohito. Showa is his death name and the name of the period defined by his reign (1926-89), a period when Japan made two distinct grabs at world domination and came reasonably close in both cases, before the constrictions of being a relatively small island nation kicked in.

Of the three Axis heads of state – Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito – only Hirohito’s birthday (and death) is honoured in this way.

Showa Day is also the only national holiday in Japan commemorating an individual. The incumbent emperor’s birthday is also a national holiday but that is more a celebration than a commemoration. The previous emperor Taisho (1912 – 1926) is not commemorated at all, and even the Emperor Meiji (1852 – 1912), whose long reign saw the modernization of Japan and its rise to great power status, does not have a day named after him. Since 1948, his birthday (November 3rd) was taken over to celebrate something called "National Culture Day."

This process of replacing a symbol of nationalism with an innocuous generic theme was actually reversed in the case of Showa Day. After Hirohito’s death in 1989, his birthday was initially celebrated as "Greenery Day," but in 2005, during the premiership of Junichiro Koizumi, Greenery Day was moved to another date and the 29th of April was renamed to commemorate the Emperor whose reign oversaw the invasion of China, the Nanking Massacre, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Pacific War, and the rebuilding of Japan.

If we make a comparison with America, the only equivalent in the calendar of holidays is Martin Luther King Day. Like Hirohito, he is the only individual commemorated with a national holiday in his name. What an interesting contrast that America should be "represented" in this way by what is effectively an "affirmative action" member of a minority teetering on alienation, while Japan is represented by the member of a family of "god kings" rooted here for 2000 years or more.

Even more interesting is the fact that Hirohoto was an integral part of the "villain team" in the great morality play of the Twentieth Century –  World War II. Why is one of the Big Three faces of the "evil alliance" celebrated in this way, while the other two are effectively demonized? Even if his role was only "symbolic," as his apologists contend, symbolism is still important, so a strong case remains for not having a day to honour the guy who at least gave the nod to Nanking and Pearl Harbor.

The real answer to this is that the Japanese themselves largely want it. Not all of them, of course, but the opponents to such symbols of nationalism – also including the hi-no-maru (sun circle) flag and the Imperialist Yasukuni Shrine – are, like Left Wingers everywhere, vocal far beyond their numbers.

Yasukuni Shrine
The Japanese people are largely unapologetic for what happened, seeing the war more as an unfortunate occurrence in which everybody suffered. The Yushukan Museum adjacent to Yasukuni Shrine also pushes the narrative that one of the aims of Japan’s expansion was to oppose the White colonization of Asia (!). At that point, you could say that Hirohito and MLK are on the same page: opposing evil Whitey. But this narrative is actually largely unheeded and unnecessary. It is obviously being kept in reserve in case America ever tries to guilt trip the Japanese the same way they did the Germans.

It is also possible to see this commemoration as the result of US geopolitics, serving to shore up an ally and convenient anti-Communist base off the coast of Asia to keep the Soviets and Red Chinese in check. But this raises the question of why a similar policy was not followed in the case of Germany.

While some will be quick to see the special favouritism that America shows to the Jews as the deciding factor, the real reason is that America’s geopolicy in Europe also involved major powers – Britain and France – that were victims of Nazi Aggression. The US counter-communist policy in Asia was, by contrast, overwhelmingly based on Japan.

Emperor Hirohito, 30 years
after he stopped being 'divine.'
But the main difference is that, whatever the evils associated with his name, Hirohito was much more an organic part of his nation than Hitler was of his. The difference between the two reveals the deep cultural difference between Christianity and Shintoism. Hitler was essentially operating within a Manichean Christian/ post-Christian culture characterized by judgmentalism and a sharp polarity between "the blessed" and "the damned." The emphasis in Christian/ post-Christian culture is on casting out evil. With defeat, Hitler became the evil who himself had to be consigned to Hell.

Shinto culture, by contrast is more inclusive of all aspects of human nature, and shows respect to so-called "evil spirits" just as much as to good spirits. In fact the idea of "evil" as it is understood in the West is rather alien. Spirits can be disturbed and can become harmful; then they may need to be placated and appeased; not exorcised as in the West.

This is why shrines are built – to pacify spirits. For Shintoists, the Emperor is the centre of a spiritual nexus gently striving towards a wider spiritual harmony within the nation, culture, civilization, and beyond. While the Emperor’s status can be temporarily down-played to appease "foreign spirits," like America or even the Chinese, it can not be cast into the role of "pure evil" in the same way as Hitler in the West. In short, it has deep moral and spiritual resilience because it has roots in the entire nation. In other words, it has Greenery!

An earlier version of this article was published at Alternative Right in 2013


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