Section 7 | History, Politics and International Relations | Session 3A, Panel
Chair and Organiser: Ben-Ami Shillony (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Discussant: Rikki Kersten
The panel will explore three areas in modern Japanese history in which the past has been invoked, in a selective way, to confront a problematic present and to suggest a wishful future. By resorting to an allegedly remembered past, both conservatives and reformers could claim that they were pursuing the right way while their opponents had strayed from it. Thus a selective memory of the past has provided legitimacy to people, groups and actions which might otherwise appear as disloyal, criminal or dangerous.
The paper of Ben-Ami Shillony, "Failure to Live Up to a Fictitious Past: Conservative Criticism of Japanese Emperors" dwells on the topic of conservative displeasure with the performance of Japanese emperors. Strange as it may sound, quite often those who worshipped the imperial institution were disappointed by the emperors of their time. These emperors fell short of the expectations based on a fictitious memory of past emperors who presumably behaved much better. This phenomenon started already in the Edo period, when establishment intellectuals suggested that the imperial dynasty had lost the mandate of heaven due to moral failures. It continued in the Meiji period with ministers criticizing the emperor's lack of seriousness, and conservatives upset by his public exposure. Military officers rebuked the Shôwa emperor for pusillanimity and bad judgement, and conservative politicians after the war called on him to assume responsibility and resign. Right-wing writers, like Mishima Yukio, condemned Akihito's education and choice of spouse, and conservative palace officials protested against what seemed to them an undignified behavior of the imperial family. These attacks were based on a selective memory of Emperor Meiji who has become the unattained model of all emperors.