Ein Shinto-Schrein, die Verfassung und der Friede

The Emperor system, education and textbooks, 1983

The Imperial constitution, which was given to the Japanese people as an act of grace by the emperor, was greatly influenced by the Prussian constitution of Bismarck which emphasized the role of the sovereign. One of the drafters of Japan's constitution said, "In the west religion is the device for uniting people but in Japan we have no such uniting religion; therefore we have to find this unifying device in the Imperial Household. Thus, in the constitution we shall remember that the ruler's power should be respected with absolutely no restriction."

Hence the first article of the Meiji constitution states, "Imperial Japan is ruled by the Emperor who comes from a succession from ages eternal." In the Meiji constitution the emperor was the absolute political authority. In other words he was the "the personification of god." In the west, God is above the ruler and the ruler's power is related only to the secular world. But in the Meiji constitution the emperor possessed sacred power with the standard of values determined by the emperor who was "guided" by political rulers. In this way the emperor had unlimited control on the thoughts and beliefs of the people--thus creating a homogeneous the population. Ethnic characteristics were exterminated and assimilation policies were carried out even in the colonies.

Education as a Tool

The Imperial Rescript of Education, the primary tool for the control of education, was issued by the emperor in 1890, one year after the constitution was promulgated. The Rescript includes the words, "Our Imperial Ancestors have founded our Empire...." and was based on loyalty to the Emperor as the supreme value. Citizens were exhorted to defend the Imperial Throne with their very lives. Through the use of the public school system the government developed excellent and dedicated workers, and at the same time, Japanese citizens coming to understand that the Tenno System was a blessing for the people of Japan, were filled with a sense of grateful loyalty.

The Meiji constitution recognized freedom of religion so long as the religion did not disturb law and order and so long as the religious believers fully performed their duties to the emperor and the state. Since for many years Christianity had been viewed as a dangerous religion, Christians were grateful for this degree of religious freedom given in the constitution. However, most Christians did not see the potential problems connected with that limited concept of freedom of religion. Christianity was absorbed, in a sense, into the Tenno System, with evangelism being carried out under the umbrella of that Tenno System.

Part of the response of the Christian community to the charge that the Christian faith was not appropriate in Japan was the position that Christianity was not anti-nationalistic and the defense that Christian faith did not negate loyalty to the emperor. In this way Christianity lost its critical view of the Tenno System and the dynamic of the Christian faith was limited to the salvation of the individual soul--a feeling that many Christian believers still hold today.

Christian Education Under Tenno

The problems of education under the Tenno System were acute. In 1899 the government issued an order for the control of private (including Christian) schools to make sure that the schools followed the government's education policy which forbade Christian education and teaching by non-Japanese teachers. Without the Ministry of Education's recognition, a private school graduate could not be certified for entry into higher education or for a job or for military draft deferral; therefore, school accreditation was very important.

One tactic of some Christian schools was to change the name of the schools from that of Chugakko (middle school) to chutobo (middle class section.) The government allowed this to be done but rated those institutions with the chutobu lower than the regular schools (chugakko). Some Christian schools continue this designation even today.

Copies of the Rescript of Education were distributed to all schools, but when pictures of the emperor and the empress were not given to Christian schools, some of these schools requested the imperial photographs for the sake of the school's honor.

Textbook Control

Control of textbooks continued until the end of World War II in 1945. The textbooks taught the pattern of belief that ones first loyalty was to the emperor and that the emperor's children (i.e. the citizens) were to be ready to fight and die for the emperor. The imperial reign over other Asian countries ("The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere") was justified as a gracious gesture from the emperor for the sake of the other Asian countries.

Early after the war the control of textbook content and the process of textbook choice was taken away from the Ministry of Education. Starting in the middle 1950s a move of the Ministry of Education for tighter control over the textbook production and selection process makes many fear that a return to pre-war indoctrination is in progress.

On the surface, control in education appears to be flexible but in actual fact it contains many risks that people will be manipulated to feed the fires of fascism.


(Japan Christian Activity News 594, February 28, 1983)


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