Imperial Rescript denying divinity

"We" addresses "Our people" instead of "Our subjects"

By William Wetherall

First posted 1 June 2007
Last updated 1 January 2008


Hirohito did not deny his divinity

Contrary to what many people have been led to believe (and are still being told in both Japanese and English on the websites of institutions like the National Diet Library), Hirohito did not deny his divinity. He did not have to, because he never claimed to be divine.

What Hirohito really denied

What Hirohito said -- in what is popularly called his "declaration of humanity" (lŠÔéŒ¾ ningen sengen, "human declaration") -- was that the bonds between himself and his people were ageless and real -- not based on myth or legend, and not based on the fictitious notion that holds tenno to be manifest gods (aka "living gods") -- among other notions.

In other words, Hirohito denied the credibility of a belief regarding tenno in general, not just himself.

Not only did Hirohito say nothing about himself, but he was speaking more generally of a set of ficticious notions that included holding the Japanese people to be a superior race with a mission to control the world. And all this was in the context of assuring his "people" (kokumin) -- no longer "subjects" -- that the bonds between him and them stemmed from mutual trust and esteem, not myth or legend.

Hirohito's declaration of popular sovereignty

Declaring that the notions of a divine emperor, superior race, and mission of global control were ficticious was esceedingly important, coming from Hirohito's mouth and over his seal. Yet just arguably more important were his references -- throughout the rescript -- to “ú–{š –¯ (Nihon kokumin) and š –¯ (kokumin) -- rather than “ú–{b–¯ (Nippon shinmin) and b–¯ (shinmin).

Not only did Hirohito's breaking with conventions of the Meiji Constitution anticipate those of the new constitution. But if dismissing the idea that tenno are manifest gods as "ficticious" was a denial of his divinity, then calling Japanese nationals "the people" rather than "subjects" was a tacit declaration that they -- no longer he -- had sovereignty.

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1 January 1946 Imperial Rescript
With two English versions and commentary

Japanese text

The Japanese text is a reformated version of the transcript posted by the National Diet Library in its digital exhibition on Constitution Day of May 2003 at “ú–{Œ›–@‚Ì’a¶ (Birth of Constitution of Japan). The transcript has been checked against an NDL image (056-001) of the rescript as published by the Printing Bureau of the Ministry of Finance in the 1 January 1946 extra edition of the Official Gazette (Š¯•ñåjŠOAº˜a“ñ\ˆê”NˆêŒŽˆê“ú). All major newspapers in Japan also carried the text in their New Year editions.

The paragraphing, punctuation, voicing, and most other orthographic features are as shown in the Official Gazette edition. I have restored as many contemporary characters as possible to the NDL text, which uses present-day characters.

The Ministry of Education, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) website features the main body of the text but some of the paragraphing is different, and not all the older characters are shown. Moreover, where the OG version has ÅçN and •û“r, the MEXT version has Å‘‡ and •ûô

English translations

The received translation is shown to the right of the Japanese text. Structural translations of selected parts of the Japanese text are shown below these two texts.

Received translation

The received "official" version was published in The Nippon Times, now The Japan Times, on 1 January 1946. The text was transcribed from the following publication.

Imperial Rescript Denying Divinity of Emperor
In The Department of State (compiler)
Occupation of Japan: Policy and Progress
Publication 2671, Far Eastern Series 17
Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, [1946]
Appendix 25, pages 133-134

Structural translation

The structural translations, shown between the Japanese text and the received English version, are mine.

As always, my purpose in structural translation to put the Japanese text into English that, as far as possible, stays as within the limits of Japanese phrasing and metaphors -- i.e., push the limits of linguistic mapping -- while highlighting the usage of selected expressions.

The received version is obviously something contrived to meet the demands of readers of English. On major points it is not that bad, and in this repsect it served its purpose. One imagines a few readers of Japanese also read the English, possibly to better understand what they may have had some difficulty reading in Japanese.

Readers of Japanese would have been able to get the drift of the rescript, even if they didn't appreciate the finer structures. The language of the rescript is even more alien to readers of Japanese today, yet most educated readers of Japanese today would be able to understand the main points.

Highlighting and commentary

In the Japanese text, and in both English versions, I have marked expressions of particular interest, which are inconsistently translated in the received version, in bold blue and bold red.

My own comments appear in boxes below related structural versions.

Ù‘ (Š¯•ñ) (Official Gazette) Imperial Rescript (The Nippon Times)

䢃jV”Nƒ’Œ}ƒtBŒÚƒ~ƒŒƒo–¾Ž¡“Vc–¾Ž¡ƒm‰š ¥ƒgƒVƒeŒÜ‰ÓžŠƒmŒä¾•¶ƒ’‰ºƒV‹‹ƒwƒŠBžHƒNA

ˆêAœAƒN˜ð‹cƒ’‹»ƒVä݋@Œö˜_ƒjŒˆƒXƒwƒV

ˆêAã‰ºSƒ’ˆêƒjƒVƒe·ƒjãSãdƒ’sƒtƒwƒV

ˆêAŠ¯•ˆê“rŽ–¯ƒjŽŠƒ‹–˜Še‘´Žuƒ’‹ƒPlSƒ’ƒVƒeŒ‘ƒ}ƒTƒ‰ƒVƒƒ“ƒRƒgƒ’—vƒX

ˆêAäp—ˆƒm蛏Kƒ’”jƒŠ“V’nƒmŒö“¹ƒjŠîƒNƒwƒV

ˆêA’qŽ¯ƒ’¢ŠEƒj‹ƒ‘åƒjcŠîƒ’U‹NƒXƒwƒV

In greeting the new year we recall to mind that Emperor Meiji proclaimed as the basis of our national policy, the five clauses of the charter Oath at the beginning of the Meiji era. The charter oath signified:

(1) Deliberative assemblies shall be established and all measures of government decided in accordance with public opinion.

(2) All classes high and low shall unite in vigorously carrying out the affairs of State.

(3) All common people, no less than the civil and military officials, shall be allowed to fulfill their just desires, so that there may not be any discontent among them.

(4) All the absurd usages of old shall be broken through and equity and justice to be found in the workings of nature shall serve as the basis of action.

(5) Wisdom and knowledge shall be sought throughout the world for the purpose of promoting the welfare of the Empire.

‰bŽ|Œö–¾³‘åA–”‰½ƒ’ƒJ‰Áƒwƒ“B’½ƒn䢃j¾ƒ’VƒjƒVƒeš ‰^ƒ’ŠJƒJƒ“ƒg—~ƒXB{ƒ‰ƒNŸƒmŒäŽïŽ|ƒj‘¥ƒŠAäp—ˆƒm蛏Kƒ’‹ŽƒŠA–¯ˆÓƒ’’¨’BƒVAŠ¯–¯§ƒQƒe•½˜aŽå‹`ƒj“OƒVA‹³—{沃Jƒj•¶‰»ƒ’’zƒLAˆÈƒe–¯¶ƒmŒüãƒ’š¤ƒŠAV“ú–{ƒ’ŒšÝƒXƒxƒVB

The proclamation is evident in significance and high in its ideals. We wish to make this oath anew and restore the country to stand on its own feet again. We have to reaffirm the principles embodied in the charter and proceed unflinchingly towards elimination of misguided practices of the past; and, keeping in close touch with the desires of the people, we will construct a new Japan through thoroughly being pacific, the officials and the people alike obtaining rich culture and advancing the standard of living of the people.

‘召“sŽsƒm–ÖƒŠƒ^ƒ‹í‰ÐAœëÐŽÒƒm䅋êAŽY‹Æƒm’â“ځAH—ƃm•s‘«AŽ¸‹ÆŽÒ‘‰Áƒm–¨“™ƒnáÁƒjSƒ’’Ƀ}ƒVƒ€ƒ‹ƒ‚ƒmƒAƒŠB‘RƒŠƒg嫃‚A‰äš –¯ƒKŒ»ÝƒmŽŽ—ùƒj’¼–ʃVAŠŽ“O“ª“O”ö•¶–¾ƒ’•½˜aƒj‹ƒ€ƒ‹ƒmŒˆˆÓŒÅƒNAŽƒN‘´ƒmŒ‹‘©ƒ’‘SƒEƒZƒoAàՃŠ‰äš ƒmƒ~ƒiƒ‰ƒY‘Sl—ÞƒmਃjA‹PƒJƒVƒL‘O“rƒm“WŠJƒZƒ‰ƒ‹ƒ‹ƒRƒgƒ’‹^ƒnƒYB

The devastation of the war inflicted upon our cities the miseries of the destitute, the stagnation of trade, shortage of food, and the great and growing number of the unemployed are indeed heart-rending; but if the nation is firmly united in its resolve to face the present ordeal and to seek civilization consistently in peace, a bright future will undoubtedly be ours, not only for our country but for the whole humanity.

•vƒŒ‰Æƒ’ˆ¤ƒXƒ‹Sƒgš ƒ’ˆ¤ƒXƒ‹Sƒgƒn‰äš ƒj‰—ƒe“Áƒj”M—óƒiƒ‹ƒ’Œ©ƒ‹B¡ƒ„›‰ƒjŸƒmSƒ’°[ƒVAl—Þˆ¤ƒmŠ®¬ƒjŒüƒqAŒ£g“I“wƒJƒ’ŒøƒXƒxƒLƒmHƒiƒŠB

Love of the family and love of country are especially strong in this country. With more of this devotion should we now work toward love of mankind.

ˆÒƒtƒj’·ƒLƒj˜jƒŒƒ‹Dृm”s–kƒjIƒŠƒ^ƒ‹Œ‹‰ÊA‰äš –¯ƒn“®ƒ‚ƒXƒŒƒoÅçNƒj—¬ƒŒAŽ¸ˆÓƒm•£ƒj’¾ŸËƒZƒ“ƒgƒXƒ‹ƒmŒXƒLƒAƒŠBækŒƒƒm•—‘QƒN’·ƒWƒe“¹‹`ƒm”Oœƒ‹Š‚ցAਃjŽv‘z¬˜ªƒm’›ƒAƒ‹ƒnŸ«ƒj[—JƒjŠ¬ƒwƒYB

We feel deeply concerned to note that consequent upon the protracted war ending in our defeat our people are liable to grow restless and to fall into the slough of despond. Radical tendencies in excess are gradually spreading and the sense of morality tends to lose its hold on the people, with the result that there are signs of confusion of thoughts.

‘RƒŒƒhƒ‚’½ƒnŽ¢“™š –¯ƒg‹¤ƒjÝƒŠAíƒj—˜ŠQƒ’“¯ƒWƒEƒV‹xÊƒ’•ªƒ^ƒ“ƒg—~ƒXB’½ƒgŽ¢“™š –¯ƒgƒmŠÔƒm•R‘уnAIŽn‘ŠŒÝƒmM—ŠƒgŒhˆ¤ƒgƒjˆËƒŠƒeŒ‹ƒoƒŒAšdƒiƒ‹_˜bƒg™BàƒgƒjˆËƒŠƒe¶ƒ[ƒ‹ƒ‚ƒmƒj”ñƒYB“Vcƒ’ˆÈƒeŒ»Œä_iƒAƒLƒcƒ~ƒJƒ~jƒgƒVAŠŽ“ú–{š –¯ƒ’ˆÈƒe‘¼ƒm–¯‘°ƒj—D‰zƒZƒ‹–¯‘°ƒjƒVƒeA‰„ƒe¢ŠEƒ’Žx”zƒXƒxƒL‰^–½ƒ’—LƒXƒgƒm‰Ë‹óƒiƒ‹æV”OƒjŠîƒNƒ‚ƒmƒjƒ‚”ñƒYB

We stand by the people and we wish always to share with them in their moments of joys and sorrows. The ties between us and our people have always stood upon mutual trust and affection. They do not depend upon mere legends and myths. They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine, and that the Japanese people are superior to other races and fated to rule the world.

Structural translation

Naturally I shall be together with all ye nationals, and will desire always to share gains and losses and likewise joys and sorrows. The bonds between me and all ye nationals have constantly been tied by mutual trust and esteem, and are not simply something engendered by myths and legends. Nor are [they] something based on ficticious notions which hold tenno to be manifest gods, and hold Japan nationals to be a race superior to other races and to have the mission of controlling the world.

"Japanese nationals" as a "race"

The received (Nippon Times) version implies that "the Japanese people" are a "race". However, the Japanese phrasing associates “ú–{š –¯ (Nihon kokumin) with –¯‘° (minzoku) only within the notion that is characterized as ficticious.

Following the phrasing of the Japanese text, the structural translation similarly associates "Japan nationals" (Japanese nationals, the people of Japan) with "race" within the "fictitious notion".

’½ƒm­•{ƒnš –¯ƒmŽŽ—ùƒg‹ê“ïƒgƒ’ŠÉ˜aƒZƒ“ƒKਁAƒAƒ‰ƒ†ƒ‹Ž{ôƒgãSšzƒgƒjäݑSƒm•û“rƒ’uƒYƒxƒVB“¯Žžƒj’½ƒn‰äš –¯ƒKŽžä…ƒjçK‹NƒVAác–ʃm¢‹êŽ•žƒmਃjA–”ŽY‹Æ‹y•¶‰^U‹»ƒmਃj—E‰ƒZƒ“ƒRƒgƒ’Šó”OƒXB‰äš –¯ƒK‘´ƒmŒö–¯¶Šˆƒj‰—ƒeš£Œ‹ƒVA‘Š˜ßƒŠ‘Š•}ƒPAŠ°—e‘Š‹–ƒXƒm‹C•—ƒ’ì‹»ƒXƒ‹ƒj‰—ƒeƒnA”\ƒN‰äŽŠ‚ƒm™B“ƒj’pƒaƒUƒ‹áÁ™Jƒ’ᢊöƒXƒ‹ƒjŽŠƒ‰ƒ“BŽzƒm”@ƒLƒn›‰ƒj‰äš –¯ƒKl—Þƒm•ŸŽƒƒgŒüãƒgƒmਁAâ‘åƒiƒ‹vŒ£ƒ’ਃXŠˆÈƒiƒ‹ƒ’‹^ƒnƒUƒ‹ƒiƒŠB

Our Government should make every effort to alleviate their trials and tribulations. At the same time, we trust that the people will rise to the occasion and will strive courageously for the solution of their outstanding difficulties and for the development of industry and culture. Acting upon a consciousness of solidarity and of mutual aid and broad tolerance in their civic life, they will prove themselves worthy of their best tradition. By their supreme endeavours in that direction they will be able to render their substantial contribution to the welfare and advancement of mankind.

Structural translation

My government, to ease the trials and tribulations of nationals, must take all possible means upon all manner of measures and operations. At the same time we much desire that our nationals will rise to the temporal hardships, and bravely go on, to conquer the difficulties of the moment, and to promote industry and academic vitality. Our nationals shall unite in their civic lives, and in mustering their spirit of mutual dependence and mutual help, tolerance and mutual acceptance, [they] well shall come to exhibit the true values which do not bring shame to [are worthy of] our highest traditions. In this manner it is not to be doubted that this shall truly be cause for our nationals to make the greatest contributions, for the welfare and advancement of humankind.

ˆê”NƒmŒvƒn”N“ªƒjÝƒŠA’½ƒn’½ƒmM—ŠƒXƒ‹š –¯ƒK’½ƒg‘´ƒmSƒ’ˆêƒjƒVƒeAŽ©ƒ‰•±ƒqŽ©ƒ‰™­ƒ}ƒVAˆÈƒeŸƒm‘å‹Æƒ’¬AƒZƒ“ƒRƒgƒ’ŽŠôƒtB

The resolution for the year should be made at the beginning of the year. We expect our people to join us in all exertions looking to accomplishment of this great undertaking with an indomitable spirit.

Structural translation

Plans for the year there shall be at the beginning of the year; I entreat nationals, whom I trust, to make their hearts one with me, and to stir themselves and encourage themselves, and thereby accomplish this great work.

Œä–¼@ŒäŽ£                   [Emperor's name]   [Emperor's seal]

º˜a“ñ\ˆê”NˆêŒŽˆê“ú         1 January 1946 [Showa 21-1-1]

“àŠt‘—‘åbŒ“               Prime Ministry of Cabinet cum
‘æˆê•œˆõ‘åb‘æ“ñ•œˆõ‘åb     Minister of First Demobilization [Army Ministry]
                             Minister of Second Demobilization [Navy Ministry]
         ’jŽÝ •¼Œ´Šìd˜Y     Baron Shidehara Kijuro

Ži–@‘åb      Šâ“c’ˆ‘¢       Minister of Justice                  Iwata Chuzo
”_—Ñ‘åb      ¼‘ºŒªŽO       Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Matsumura Kenzo
•¶•”‘åb      ‘O“c‘½–å       Minister of Education                Maeda Tamon
ŠO–±‘åb      ‹g“c–Î         Minister of Foreign Affairs          Yoshida Shigeru
“à–±‘åb      –xØ‘PŽŸ˜Y     Minister of Home Affairs             Horikiri Zenjiro   
š –±‘åb      ¼–{à~Ž¡       Minister of State                    Matsumoto Joji
Œú¶‘åb      ˆ°“c‹Ï         Minister of Welfare                  Ashida Hitoshi
š –±‘åb      ŽŸ“c‘åŽO˜Y     Minister of State                    Tsugita Daisaburo
‘å‘ ‘åb ŽqŽÝ a‘òŒhŽO       Minister of Finance         Viscount Shibuzawa Keizo
‰^—A‘åb      “c’†•—Y       Minister of Communications           Tanaka Takeo
¤H‘åb      ¬Š}Œ´ŽO‹ã˜Y   Minister of Commerce and Industry    Ogasawara Sankuro
š –±‘åb      ¬—шêŽO       Minister of State                    Kobayashi Ichizo

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