National Geographic : 1945 Nov
The National Geographic Magazine "What do you love best in the world?" "The Emperor, of course." "Better than your father and mother?" "Yes. He is the Lord of Heaven, the father of my father and mother." "What will you give the Emperor?" "All my best toys and my life when he wants it." Children in the primary grades learn from the Textbook of Ethics for Ordinary Primary Schools, which has been a standard text for several decades, that "Amaterasu sent down Ninigi-no-Mikoto and caused him to rule over this country. The great-grandchild of this prince was the Emperor Jimmu. More than 2,570 years have elapsed since the accession to the throne of this Emperor. His successors throughout successive generations have as cended the throne." Emperor's Report to His Ancestors Of course all these statements are false and the intelligent writers doubtless knew they were false. Jimmu, if he ever existed at all, which is doubtful, was hardly the great-grand child of a god. The span of time since the beginning of the dynasty is exaggerated by at least six centuries, and the succession has been frequently broken by adoption or usurpation. The main ring of the Shinto circus is the Grand Shrine of Ise. Here the Emperor goes to report to his ancestors. Here all good subjects should repair at some time in their lives. The textbook on ethics implants the idea early: "Children! Thus deeply does the Imperial Family revere and worship the Grand Im perial Shrine! . . . And even people living in remote places, having once made the pil grimage to the Ise shrine, and having bowed deeply in the divine presence and raised their eyes to the sacred majesty, have felt a lifelong desire fulfilled."* Teachers are helped to expound the "eternal truths" of the National History for Ordinary Primary Schools by an official commentary which tells them: "We subjects who live under such an illus trious Imperial family are for the most part descendants of the gods."t "Ogawa-san," I said, "why do they say 'for the most part'? Aren't all Japanese subjects descendants of the gods?" Ogawa was slightly embarrassed. "Well," he explained, "you see there has to be a distinction between native Japanese and foreigners who have taken Japanese citi zenship-I mean Koreans, Chinese, and so forth."** "And Englishmen and Americans," I added. "So, for example, if my wife and I should be come Japanese subjects, that would not make us children of Izanagi the male deity from whose left eye Amaterasu was born ." "I'm afraid not." "But if we foreigners are not descendants of the gods, too, then what are we?" Ogawa took a long sip of tea before he answered. "I believe you have your own theory of evolution," he suggested mildly. I bowed to his logic and embraced my ape ancestors. I think I prefer them to his gods. How could Ogawa think otherwise about Nipponese pre-eminence when the Handbook of Ethics tells him: "There are many countries in the world, but there is not one that, like our great Japanese Empire, has one Emperor of the same dynasty through the course of the ages. We who have been born in such an exalted country . . ." Racial conceit is not a monopoly of the Japanese, but they seem to have more than their fair share of it. More important, it has been used as a weapon of national policy. Army Man "Reforms" the Schools As the campaign was intensified, an Army man became Minister of Education. He was General Baron Sadao Araki, Japan's most voluble exponent of the emperor myth. He had formerly been Inspector General of Mili tary Education and had thoroughly revised and fanaticized the Army educational pro gram. In the late thirties, as Minister of Edu cation, his influence reached the smallest ham let and the last home in the Empire. He "reformed" the school system. The already elaborate fictions of the schoolbooks were further romanticized. He did not believe in half measures. Pro gressive teachers all over the country were dismissed. Many were imprisoned for "dan gerous thoughts." His Bureau of Thought Control undertook to question all teachers and students and turned over to the police those who did not give the right answers. The last traces of liberalism in the univer sities were stamped out. It was announced that the Tokyo and Kyoto Imperial Univer sities, "in harmony with the times," would establish courses on the "History of Japanese * Modern Japan and Shinto Nationalism, by D. C. Holtom, published by the University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois. t Government by Assassination, by Hugh Byas, published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York City. ** See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Jap Rule in the Hermit Nation," by Willard Price, October, 1945, and "I Lived on Formosa," by Joseph W. Ballantine, January, 1945.