Daily Archives: 6 September 2005

Nichiren and Japan’s National Spirit, 1924

Seeking to resist the democratic current and build up the waning imperial authority, on November 10, 1923, the Kiyoura cabinet adopted a “cultural policy” based on the regent’s [i.e., Crown Prince Hirohito’s] Imperial Rescript on the Promotion of the National Spirit. Prime Minister Kiyoura thereupon formed, in February 1924, a Central Association of Cultural Bodies in response to Hirohito’s call for the improvement of thought and “the awakening of the national spirit.” Invited to the association’s convocation meeting to discuss a national campaign against “dangerous thoughts” associated with the labor movement and the Left were representatives from Shinto, Christianity, and Buddhism, including the leaders of Nichiren.

The sect, founded in the thirteenth century, was enjoying its golden age of influence and growth, and two of its leading proseltyzers–Honda Nisshô and Tanaka Chigaku–immediately seized upon this “national spirit” campaign to draw up an appeal asking the court to issue a rescript conferring on Nichiren, the founder of their religion, the posthumous title of “Great Teacher Who Established the Truth,” so that they could then use it for prosletyzing purposes. After the court granted Nichiren the title, Imperial Household Minister Makino is alleged to have declared: “This decision was due to the emperor’s benevolent awareness that the present ideological situation in Japan requires better guidance by sound thought, and especially, firm religious belief.”

In fact the imperial house, controlled by Makino and Hirohito, awarded the title because it considered the social situation bad enough to warrant the services of the most passionate enemies of Taishô democracy, the Nichiren believers. When Honda went to the Imperial Household Ministry to receive the award, he met Makino and told him that the Nichiren religion “is the banner of an army on the offensive in the ‘ideological warfare’ of the present day.” Honda also expressed his patriotism and boasted about the Nichiren sect’s antidemocratic, anticommunist nature.” That Buddhism (or the faith of Nichiren believers, many of whom were upper-echelon military officers and civilian right-wing ideologues) had to be called on to supplement emperor ideology indicates that the official creed was never able to exercise a controlling influence on all groups in Japanese society.

SOURCE: Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, by Herbert P. Bix (HarperCollins, 2000), pp. 163-164

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