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[Opinion] “Divine DNA”

Posted April. 02, 2005 00:02,   


20. [Opinion] “Divine DNA”

If one is asked to choose a “prime minister of mythology” among all the Japanese prime ministers, the man of choice would be Yoshiro Mori (prime minister from April 2000 to April 2001). One of his most famous remarks is the one he made in May 2000, saying, “Japan is a nation of gods, with the Emperor, or ‘Tenno,’ at the center of everything.” The opposition party instantly voiced its disapproval, saying that the remarks denied the constitutional principles of popular sovereignty and the separation of religion and politics. Though Mori took a firm stand against the criticism, he got himself into trouble again a few days later during the election campaign. “A victory of the opposition party in this election will surely deliver a hard blow to Japan’s political identity,” he argued. With “political identity,” Mr. Mori had meant an imperial nation.

Those remarks should be politically provocative. How would the Japanese people feel about them? When asked, “What does Tenno mean to the Japanese people?” a Korea-savvy Japanese intellectual answered, “The Emperor is like the head of the ‘head family’ to the Japanese.” He continued to say, “Usually, they are not aware of his imperial presence. Still, once some start challenging the meaning of the Emperor or say something bad about him, the Japanese people turns sour. In this sense, the Emperor is similar to the head of the ‘head family.’” However, to the Japanese, Tenno means more than just a head of the ‘main family.’

Japan has as many as three national holidays that celebrate the Emperor. February 11 is National Foundation Day. On that day in 660 B.C., it is “assumed” that the ancestral Emperor Jimmu took the throne. July 20 is “Marine Day” in commemoration of the day in 1876 when Emperor Meiji returned in a then state-of-the-art ship to Hokkaido via Yokohama. December 23 is the birthday of the current Emperor.

It looks like Japan will have another holiday concerning the Emperor. On April 1, Japanese House of Representatives committee voted for a revised national holiday bill to change the current “Green Day” (Arbor Day, April 29) to “Day of Showa.” In fact, April 29 is Emperor Showa’s birthday. After his death in January 1989, the day became the “Green Day.” Following Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, Emperor Showa denied his “divinity” and, instead, declared his “humanness” on January 1 1946. Nevertheless, it seems that the Japanese feel they have a “divine DNA,” which means that they still consider the Emperor to be a “divine being.” The news of this upcoming “Day of Showa” is another reminder of that “divine DNA.”

Shim Kyu-seon, Editorial Writer, ksshim@donga.com