Ein Shinto-Schrein, die Verfassung und der Friede

A theological dialogue on the Emperor system in Japan, 1983

"The Tenno System Ideology and the Christian Faith" was the theme of a seminar sponsored by the Commission on Theological Concerns, Christian Conference of Asia and National Christian Council in Japan in Tokyo February 21-25.

There were 30 participants from Japan, and ten theologians chosen by the CCA - three from Korea, one from Taiwan, one from Indonesia, one Maori from New Zealand, one from the Philippines and three from the CCA staff.

This was the first international meeting looked at the Tenno system from a theological perspective. The ideology of the Tenno system was examined from the point of view of the present situation. Cultural, historical, social, political and economic aspects were analyzed.

The theological reflection included testimonies given by four persons who are now struggling for human rights under the Tenno System, with reports JCAN summary-translations of the reports of Prof. KIDA Kenichi and Mrs. YAMAYA Shinko follow.


Gustavo Gutierrez, liberation theologian, suggested that Vatican Council II (1962-1965) was an attempt of the Roman Catholic Church to faithfully propagate the gospel in the modern age and break out of the framework of imperial domination that has continued since the days of Constantine and Theodosius. It seems to me that we need to take up the issue of the Tenno System as it relates to the Japanese church, since the Tenno system plays a role in its relation to with the church in Japan very similar to the role played by the Roman Empire toward the Roman Catholic Church.

In 313 A.D. Constantine stopped the persecution of Christians and protected Christianity in order to use it as the spiritual foundation of the Roman Empire. Behaving as if he were the semi-divine messianic protector of the church, he ordered the church to accept the Nicene Council results (325) in order to settle existing conflicts within the church.

In 392, Theodosius established Christianity as the state religion and prohibited all other religions, and the Roman Empire and Christianity continued in an inseparable relationship, which served as the unifying power in European history for more than 1,000 years.

Although Japanese Christianity and the Tenno System did not have that same kind of positive relationship over a long period of time, Christianity in Japan faced serious confrontation with the Tenno System because of the semi-divine messianic character of the emperor as manifested in the Tenno System. Christianity was thus forced into a relationship of compromise with the state under the Tenno System that is incompatible with the nature of the church.

The Development and Structure of the Tenno System

Though the Tenno System can be traced back to the fifth century the unique feature of the present Tenno system was invented at the beginning of the eight century. At that time the emperor was separated from political sovereignty and was deified with the role giving legitimacy to those in authority who exercised actual political control. This pattern continued in varying forms until the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the beginning of modernization in Japan, 1868, called the Restoration, i.e. the emperor was theoretically restored to political power, though the nature of that political power continued to be ambiguous.

The preamble of the Meiji Constitution promulgated by the Emperor in 1889, set out the mythical origin of the Emperor, the unbroken lineage down to the Meiji Emperor, and his political supremacy over the Japanese race and his absolute authority over the political and military spheres. Citizens were granted certain rights so long as the exercise of those rights did not interfere with their duties as the subjects of the emperor or hinder the emperor in the exercise of his absolute power.

Before the constitution went into effect in 1882, the Edict to Soldiers was issued insuring that children receiving compulsory education were similarly indoctrinated.

The Tenno System and Christianity

The first Protestant missionaries arrived in Japan in 1859, and the law prohibiting Japanese from becoming Christians was revoked in 1873. Many of those who came to Christianity in those early days were young people who were also political outsiders seeking new directions for their lives and individuals seeking western knowledge. Though there was a strong general opposition to Christianity as a foreign religion, those who became Christians took pride in also being Japanese and they supported the goal of Japanese independence from outside domination. Very few of the early Christians apparently recognized the problems implicit in the Tenno System.

When the Imperial Rescript of Education was first ceremonially introduced to the schools a heated controversy between Christians and other Japanese broke out over the Tenno System when a teacher in a government school, UCHIMURA Kanzo, refused to bow to the Rescript because of his Christian faith. However, Christians who seriously confronted the Tenno System at that time were few in number and were exceptions to the common pattern. Many attempts were made to prove that there was no conflict between the Christian faith and the Tenno System.

The Tenno System was a cause of misery for the people of countries invaded by Japan and has caused suffering for the Japanese people also. Despite these miseries, the emperor himself, both personally and officially, has avoided taking responsibility for the suffering even though all wars since the beginning of the Meiji period have been fought in his name.

Politicians recognize that the emperor is of great value as an instrument for the control of Japan. General Douglas MacArthur, the American who guided the post-war military occupation policy, recognized it as well and among Japanese Christians today there are quite a few who evaluate positively the political value of the Tenno System. They feel that without the Tenno System, political activity would be difficult since the system gives a sense of cohesion and unity to the Japanese people.

Those Christians who believe that the emperor is a necessary cultural symbol of Japan see Christ primarily in terms of forgiveness of their own personal sin and in terms of their own individual salvation. This seems to imply that to some Japanese Christians that the Tenno System is accepted in the light of the Constantine settlement mentioned above.

In my opinion, the Orthodox Christianity that was formed on the foundation of the Constantine settlement is not sufficient to overcome the Tenno System, since it was the kind of Christian faith which collaborated with imperial domination. This is the main reason that modern Protestantism, which was developed in relation to modern Western culture, is also not appropriate for overcoming the Tenno System in Japan.

To overcome the Tenno System we must return to the biblical truth that can be summarized in two points. The first is that those who have experienced an encounter with the holy God will become free persons liberated from domination by this world and thus will fight against domination by this world. They will willingly sacrifice their privileges as free beings and move to overcome all kinds of discrimination. The second point of biblical truth is that the will of God was perfectly manifested in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. From Jesus' life we learn that God's will is that all kinds of oppression and discrimination be overcome.

The task of the Church in Japan is to re-examine its relationship to the Tenno System so that the church can accomplish its essential task in Japanese society.

KIDA Kenichi

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


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