The Acting Political Adviser in Japan ( Sebald ) to the Secretary of State

No. 143

Sir: I have the honor to forward herewith copy of an article1 which appeared in the Nippon Times of February 25, 1948, regarding a conference [Page 679] given to the press by a member of the Government Section of this Headquarters, in which he criticized the fact that, when the Katayama Cabinet recently submitted its resignation, report of the resignation was made to the Emperor.

The Headquarters’ spokesman is reported to have condemned Japanese bureaucrats for attempting to use the Emperor during the recent Cabinet crisis, which brought about the resignation of the Katayama Cabinet, in a manner not justified by the Constitution. The unjustified utilization of the Emperor occurred when the late Katayama Cabinet submitted its resignation to the Emperor in accordance with traditional Japanese practice under the Meiji Constitution. It may be noted that this is the first occasion under the new Constitution when a question could have arisen in connection with a Cabinet resignation. The spokesman, in consequence of this Headquarters’ attitude on the question, recommended amendment of Article 7 of the present Constitution to prevent misuse of the Imperial system by a bureaucracy which, he stated, tortured the attestation function assigned to the Emperor by Article 7 by permitting the Cabinet to report its resignation to the Throne.

The concern of this Headquarters over the matter is allegedly based upon the fact that no mention of such a practice can be found in the new Constitution. The spokesman stated to an officer of this Mission that the outgoing Cabinet had apparently felt impelled to submit its resignation to the authority empowered to attest the appointment of its members, that is to the Emperor. This attestation authority is granted by Article 7 of the Constitution. In only two articles of the Constitution, Articles 69 and 70, is mention made of the resignation of the Cabinet, resignation en masse being stipulated in case of a non-confidence resolution of the House of Representatives or of a vacancy in the post of Prime Minister. No mention, however, is made of the organ to which the resignation shall be submitted. It would appear to be the interpretation of General Headquarters, henceforth to be followed in Japanese constitutional practice, that the act of resignation is purely administrative in character and that it does not involve the Emperor in any manner.

In pronouncing upon the report of the Cabinet’s resignation, the Headquarters’ spokesman left undecided the question whether or not the Prime Minister, whose appointment as well as the attestation thereof is made by the Emperor, may not alone report his own resignation to the Throne. In the light of Article 6 of the Constitution, which empowers the Emperor to appoint the Prime Minister, and of Article 68, which in turn empowers the latter both to appoint and to remove Ministers of State, such a separate and distinct act of resignation [Page 680] would not appear out of question. Article 70 would then render necessary the subsequent resignation of the remainder of the Cabinet en masse. The possibility, however, of the Prime Minister’s standing apart from the rest of the Cabinet in this respect would seem to have been rejected by Japanese officialdom itself in the present case. The special relation of the Prime Minister to the Emperor through the appointing power does not appear, therefore, to entail any special consequence with regard to procedure of resignation, and it may be assumed that a report by the Prime Minister to the Throne of his own resignation would have been met with the same disapproval as has been shown for the report of the entire Cabinet’s resignation.

It was also disclosed by the spokesman to an officer of this Mission that the concern of Government Section over this matter had been engendered by information which, in that Section’s view, indicates that pre-war, nationalistic elements in and around the Government are striving to re-establish the Emperor in his pre-war position of authority.

Notwithstanding this consideration and the apparent intention of the spokesman’s pronouncement, that Japanese constitutional practice shall eschew reporting a cabinet’s resignation to the Throne, we are unable to comprehend how a constitutional interpretation rendered in this manner could have legal validity other than that which might temporarily be conferred by the authority of the Occupying power. We furthermore believe that this action constitutes a dangerous precedent for interpretation of the meaning of the Constitution by fiat in the post-Occupation period, and that it may give rise among the Japanese to an undesirable belief that their organic law means what “higher authority” wishes it to mean, thereby undermining the entire concept of constitutional and democratic government.

Respectfully yours,

W. J. Sebald
  1. Not printed.