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Editorial: Imperial Rescript on Education at odds with popular sovereignty

The Imperial Rescript on Education, which was issued by Emperor Meiji in 1890, was rejected in postwar Japan. Nevertheless, moves to cling to it and defend it as entailing universal values show no signs of winding down, as exemplified by a kindergarten run by scandal-hit school corporation Moritomo Gakuen having its pupils recite the controversial rescript and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and others expressing support for it.

Let us be reminded, once again, what elements of the Imperial Rescript on Education posed a problem.

The rescript is an educational edict enumerating virtues that should be respected by the people in Japan, who were at the time called "subjects of the emperor." Students were forced to recite the rescript at schools and copies of the edict were enshrined along with a portrait of the emperor.

Alongside state Shintoism, the rescript served as a spiritual backbone for efforts to solidify Imperial rule, and worked as a driving force in promoting militarism after the introduction of the National Mobilization Law in 1938.

The crux of the edict is evident in the following passage: "Should an emergency arise, muster your courage under a cause and dedicate yourselves to the good of the Imperial state" (according to an interpretation by the former Ministry of Education).

The passage is an epitome of nationalistic ideology under the reign of the emperor, ordering the people to offer their lives to His Majesty in national emergencies.

After Japan's surrender in World War II, the modern-day Constitution came into force, which espouses sovereignty of the people and defines the emperor as the symbol of the state and the unity of the people. Under the newly instituted Fundamental Law of Education, militaristic education was rejected in favor of a democratic one. The House of Representatives voted to rule out the Imperial Rescript on Education, while the House of Councillors adopted a resolution to confirm the invalidity of the rescript.

Since then, past Cabinets have upheld the position that the Imperial Rescript on Education was invalidated under the Fundamental Law of Education and that the invalidation was reaffirmed by parliamentary resolutions. Even the conservative Cabinet of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone expressed regret over the fact that the rescript was being recited at a private high school.

In defiance of these historical backgrounds surrounding the controversial rescript, Defense Minister Inada recently told the Diet, "We should bring back the spirit of the Imperial Rescript on Education, which aimed for a state based on moral principles."

While Inada views "a state based on moral principles" as a country that enjoys worldwide respect for its high ethical views, if she is to disregard the lessons of history Japan wouldn't gain respect from the international community. To begin with, the term "dogi kokka" in Japanese, which Inada used to refer to "a state based on moral principles," doesn't exist in the original text of the Imperial Rescript on Education.

Inada also testified before the legislature that she doesn't uphold what she calls the "unilateral view" that the Imperial Rescript on Education encouraged Japan's path toward war. One is tempted to wonder what she, as a public figure having the Self-Defense Forces under her charge, thinks about the fact that the rescript was used in pressing militarism in prewar Japan.

In the past, there were politicians who re-evaluated the Imperial Rescript on Education by claiming that the Diet resolutions were adopted during the Allied Occupation -- including former prime ministers Kakuei Tanaka and Yoshiro Mori. Advocates of the resurgence of the rescript rave about it as "embracing timeless, universal philosophies," such as being dutiful to parents and loving your own family.

However, the essence of the rescript lies in that it dictates people to help maintain the everlasting prosperity of the Imperial Throne by exercising the virtues elaborated in the edict. It is switching the focus of the problem if the rescript is to be only partially quoted to reaffirm it.

As a matter of course, family love is an essential virtue. But that and other virtues can be told in one's own words without going out of the way to bring up the Imperial Rescript on Education. We need to be reminded once again that the mechanism of the rescript, under which the emperor forces its people into action, is in complete conflict with the principle of sovereignty of the people.

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