Lot 122, Box 53

Memorandum Prepared by the Inter-Divisional Area Committee on the Far East” 44


Japan: Political Problems: Institution of the Emperor

I. The Problem

The problem is the relation of the institution of the emperor to military government (Questions 3d and 3i 45).

II. Basic Factors

More than any other of the various questions submitted by the War and Navy Departments, this question is one which is difficult if not impossible to answer finally at the present time because it is impossible to prophesy accurately the effects of an attempt by the United Nations to eliminate the institution of the emperor. The Japanese may change their attitude towards the institution of the emperor.

Since the Japanese at present show an almost fanatical devotion to their sovereign, an attempt from the outside to abolish the institution of the emperor, would, so long as the present attitude of the Japanese continues, probably be ineffective. The mere dethronement of the emperor against the will of the Japanese people would not accomplish the abolition of the emperorship nor could it probably be effectively legislated out of existence so long as the Japanese believed in it and were determined to maintain it. Under these circumstances, the indefinite occupation of Japan might be necessary if the United Nations wished to prevent the revival of the institution of the emperor.

Such a situation is the result of the unique position of the Japanese emperor. He is considered the source from which all authority emanates and is regarded as sacred and inviolable. Accepted governmental procedure has allowed the emperorship to be made an instrument of the Japanese military in the achievement of their aims. This close relationship which the military have developed with the throne will in all probability have to be severed if militarism is to be wiped out of Japan.

Another factor which makes it difficult to answer this question is that while the purposes of the United Nations are clear—the abolition of militarism and the furthering of democracy in Japan—there may be a divergence of views as to the most practical means to achieve these ends. The various United Nations, including the United [Page 1251]States, apparently have not yet decided on what is the best course to follow. For example, in relation to the emperorship, there are indications that the Chinese may favor the abolition of the institution of the emperor and public opinion in the United States increasingly seems to prefer this solution. On the other hand, the British at the close of the war may oppose such action. In view of the possibility that there may be some disagreement among Great Britain, China, and the United States as to the best policy to follow in regard to the emperor, the final decision may have to be determined by common agreement among these three nations.

Any decision that is taken with regard to the commanding officer of the occupying forces permitting the emperor to exercise certain of his functions will not, of course, in any way affect the right of the military commander to issue any proclamation he may desire. Military government in Japan will be the supreme authority over all of the territory in which that government operates.

There are several courses of action open to the occupation authorities but three alternatives seem the most likely—they could 1) redelegate to the emperor the exercise of none of his functions, 2) redelegate all of his functions, or 3) redelegate only some of his functions.

1) Redelegation of none of the functions of the emperor

Under this alternative, in view of the right of the theater commander to exercise directly all powers of government, the occupation authorities would hold the imperial family in protective custody and suspend the exercise of all of the functions of the emperor. The military government would then actually exercise the rights of sovereignty though the emperor might continue as the de jure sovereign of Japan. Such action might create a difficult situation for the occupation authorities. Japanese functionaries consider the throne as the source of authority to hold office. Therefore, if the emperor is deprived of his rights of sovereignty, it might well be that a substantial group of Japanese officials would feel that their country had lost its independence and that it would be impossible for them to serve under foreign masters. If such a situation developed, it might cause a breakdown in the entire administrative structure.

In a highly industrialized country like Japan, such a breakdown would create an extremely serious situation for the occupation authorities, as it is questionable whether a sufficient number of civil affairs personnel could ever be trained to operate alone the entire administration of Japanese government and the essential functions of Japanese economy. The size of such a task is indicated by the fact that in 1937 there were over 140,000 persons of civil service status in the various governmental ministries, exclusive of the Army and the [Page 1252]Navy and 60,000 national police and 330,000 national employees without civil service ranking. However, the suspension of the exercise of all of the functions of the emperor has the advantage that it would permit the greatest possible freedom of action in regard to the future treatment of the emperor—either all or certain of his functions and sovereign rights could be restored or all of the functions might continue to be suspended.

2) Redelegation of all of the functions of the emperor

The occupation authorities would hold the emperor in protective custody but permit all the functions of government to be carried on through the emperor or in his name. Such a course would allow the issuance of necessary directives for the operation of government under the seal of the sovereign and would presumably facilitate the task of obtaining government officials for service in the actual administration of civil affairs within Japan. However, the occupation authorities might possibly feel that such action could not be taken as it would infringe too much on their own authority. Furthermore, such use of the emperorship would seem to imply that the occupation authorities were supporting the continuance of the throne. It is questionable whether the American people would sanction a program which implied such positive support of the emperorship.

3) Apprehending of the Imperial family and redelegation of some of the functions of the emperor

The occupation authorities would hold the imperial family in protective custody and would use the emperor for their own ends. In line with the basic principle that the authority and responsibility of all Japanese officials and organs, including the emperor, are superseded by the occupation authorities, but that certain functions of these officials and organs may be exercised under the direction of the occupation authorities, the military governor would permit only those functions of the emperor to be exercised which relate to the delegation of administrative duties to subordinate officials. This procedure, without impairing the essential authority of the theater commander, would tend to assure the good behavior of the Japanese people and to keep in office the maximum number of Japanese officials who would be willing to serve directly under the supervision of civil affairs officers.

Such a solution might be interpreted as support of the emperorship and recognition of its symbolic value by the civil affairs administration and hence by the United Nations. It is unlikely, however, that the Japanese would interpret such action by the occupation authorities in this way. The apprehending of the imperial family by foreign military forces, the use of those forces of certain limited functions of the emperor for their own ends, and the uncertainty as to the eventual [Page 1253]disposition of the emperor would be more likely to be interpreted by the Japanese as an open challenge to the inviolability of their emperor.

In any event, it may well be possible for the civil affairs administration to diminish even the limited use it might make of the institution of the emperor as the administrative machinery of military government functions more effectively. It would be desirable politically for the theater commander to do so to the maximum extent which he may feel to be practicable. Finally, if there developed a substantial movement among the Japanese people for the abolition of the institution of the emperor, the military authorities should take no action against that movement (except such as may be incidental to maintaining law and order) and should cease to utilize the emperor as a political instrument.

III. Recommendations

It is recommended that the military authorities adopt as flexible a course as possible which can be altered to meet any situation that may arise. If, considering all circumstances, the military authorities should decide initially to permit the emperor to exercise certain limited functions it is suggested that consideration be given to proceeding as follows:

If it is politically practicable and physically possible, the emperor (regardless of whether the present sovereign or any of his successors is reigning or is under a regency at the time of occupation) and his immediate family should be placed under protective custody, and be removed from the Imperial Palace and Tokyo and be taken to a location which is comparatively easy to guard such as the Hayama Palace on the seacoast south of Tokyo. The emperor should be kept in seclusion, but his personal advisers should be allowed to have access to him under reasonable conditions and he should be accorded courtesy normally extended, in like circumstances, to a head of state. Such an arrangement should expedite the administration of civil affairs within Japan as the people would have assurance of the emperor’s safety and welfare and of the fact that he was under surveillance.
In accord with the rights and responsibilities of the occupation authorities under international law, the theater commander has the powers necessary for the administration of civil affairs, and his authority and responsibility supersede that of all officials and organs in the occupied territory. However, he may direct certain functions of these officials and organs to be exercised under his authority. Consequently, the military governor would permit only those functions of the emperor to be exercised which relate to the delegation of administrative duties to subordinate officials. This procedure should facilitate the use of Japanese officials by the civil affairs administration, [Page 1254]as such officials would continue in office by order of the emperor but would be, in reality, under the military government.
In the proclamation concerning the authority of the occupation government, it should be stated that those functions of the emperor stipulated in Articles V, VI, and VII of the constitution which relate to the enactment of laws and Articles XI and XII which relate to the command and organization of the armed forces, have ceased. This course would constitute evidence to the Japanese people that the authority of the occupation government was superior to that of the emperor. However, the civil affairs administration would be in a position to use a maximum of Japanese officials who would be willing to serve directly under its supervision and would be able to leave the actual operations of administration in considerable measure to the Japanese themselves.
If it should be apparent that the exercise of certain functions of government through the emperor would be of comparatively little benefit to CAA and would not facilitate the use of Japanese personnel under the supervision of civil affairs officers, it might then become advantageous to suspend all of the functions of the emperor. In this contingency, the occupation authorities should be prepared to take charge of the actual operation, in addition to the previously assumed direction of the basic functions of Japanese government. Before such action is taken, however, the Department of State should be given an opportunity to express its opinion in regard to the matter.
If a portion of Japan proper is occupied for any length of time prior to the unconditional surrender of the entire country, the occupation authorities should be prepared to operate directly most of the functions of government in such occupied portion, with the possible exception of government in the small villages and townships. In such a case it will probably be difficult to obtain the services of any Japanese officials of significance in the area under occupation. These officials may either have fled to unoccupied territory or may refuse to serve under CAA. A similar situation may prevail throughout all of Japan if the emperor and his household, prior to the capitulation of Japan, escape or are spirited away.
The occupation authorities should in all of their treatment of and their contacts with the emperor refrain from any action which would imply recognition of or support for the Japanese concept that the Japanese emperor is different from and superior to other temporal rulers, that he is of divine origin and capacities, that he is sacrosanct or that he is indispensable. They should permit absolute freedom of discussion, except where there may be incitement to breaches of the peace, of political as well as other subjects.

[Page 1255]

Prepared and reviewed by the Inter-Divisional Area Committee on the Far East.

TS: GHBlakeslee JA: ERDickover (drafting officer)
HBorton (drafting officer) BRJohansen
RAFearey CA: OEClubb
PRJosselyn ME: MBHall
FE: JWBallantine FMA: CFRemer
AHiss FSO: EHDooman (drafting officer)
LA: ALMoffat
  1. Marginal notation in the original: “Note: This document has been thoroughly revised by the Inter-Divisional Area Committee on the Far East.”
  2. Ante, p. 1192.