Daily Archives: 26 August 2005

Reinventing the Japanese Monarchy, 1927

The Fifty-second Imperial Diet, which had adjourned following Emperor Taisho’s death, had reconvened on January 18, 1927. Hirohito and his entourage lost no time in trying to influence political trends and make the political world aware of his presence.

First, on January 19, 1927, the idea of a fourth national holiday was proposed in the House of Peers as if it had originated there rather than in the court…. A short time later, the Diet approved a bill establishing November 3 as Meiji’s holiday (Meiji setsu), and the sanctioning announcement was made by imperial ordinance on March 3.

The tenth anniversary of Meiji’s death, July 30, 1922, had passed relatively unnoticed by the court and the public, except for visits by the regent [Hirohito] to Kyoto and the Momoyama mausoleums. Why now the new holiday? Because Hirohito’s enthronement was in the offing, and his entourage needed every device it could muster to invest him with greater charisma and blot out Taisho’s image. Hirohito could hardly be sent back in time to participate in great victories that had been won when he had been only four years of age. But Meiji could be transported, via the new holiday, and the appropriate fanfare, to a new generation and era, and Hirohito thereby made to shine brighter, if only by reflected radiance.

Due to the official mourning for Taisho, the first national celebration of Meiji’s birthday could not begin until the following year [1927]. The honoring of Meiji therefore would occur during the enthronement and deification of his grandson, the noncharismatic Hirohito, whom the press was describing already as the new “incarnation of Emperor Meiji.” Before the year of mourning for Taisho had even ended, the public had grown accustomed to thinking of the preenthronement emperor as the new Meiji, and as the grandson who would perfect the imperial legacy.

Later, intending to remind the young emperor of the toil rice cultivation required, and so identify him in the public mind with the plight of the rice farmers in a period of agricultural depression, Kawai invented a new court ritual. He suggested that Hirohito cultivate rice within the palace precincts. Hirohito agreed and a field was prepared inside the Akasaka Palace grounds for this purpose. On June 14, 1927, Hirohito received rice plants from different regions of the country and staged his first rice-planting ritual. Later, after his enthronement, he moved his residence to the palace, and seventy and eighty tsubo (280 and 320 square yards) of dry and wet field, respectively, were reclaimed for the purpose of ceremonial rice planting. A small mulberry grove beyond the wet fields was also prepared for Empress Nagako to engage in sericulture, thereby identifying her with Japan’s most important export commodity, silk.

SOURCE: Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, by Herbert P. Bix (HarperCollins, 2000), pp. 182-183

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