Japan's History

Jul 9, 2020 in History Essay

Japan's History Essay

Emperor's Importance throughout Japan's History


The emperor in Japan was a leader of an empire, who exercised authority upon his reign and his sovereign subjects, according to the constitution operating at his time. The emperor possessed special powers bestowed upon him from his ancestors. The main objective of this paper is to discuss the important role played by an emperor in the history of Japan. 

Early, during the aristocratic rule, the emperor’s authority was exercised when emperor Temmu (1682-1686) gives a command to an official of courts of law to put into memory the genealogies, as well as all documents available in court. This was an effort to compile an authoritative history of Japan, thus, establishing Japan's accurate history. In order to maintain a smooth hereditary authority, emperor Keiko commands his son, Yamato Takeru, to admonish his elder brother for going against Confucian ethics. Yamato ends up killing his brother. This action demonstrated a combination of loyalty, consolidation, and lineage, the elements that played an important role in early Japanese development. Yamato becomes a hero because he is an emperor’s son. This genealogy endows him to reach out to former Japanese deities, who are the emperors (Burke).

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The warrior rule was exercised when the samurai warriors began gaining power from the eighth century AD. It was the prerogative of the Japanese emperor to recruit soldiers, which he used to resist rebellions and fight the Emishi nomadic people. He exercised his authority to disband the entire army, so as to completely depend on the pre-samurai warriors, who had great military prowess. The emperors have ruled Japan for a very long period of not less than 1500 years, and always rising from the same genealogy of an imperial family. Under the Meiji constitution, the emperor exercised sovereign power from 1868, whereby his military, as well as political power, was almost absolute. 

The emperor in Japan was the source of ultimate power, the reason he is referred to as the “head of the Empire” by the 1889 Meiji constitution. The sovereign rights are bound with him, which he must exercise in the light of the current constitution. He is said to be a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, which makes his subjects think of him as a manifest deity, who bears Japan’s moral capacity, as well as from whom moral authority arises. Also, he is a spiritual leader, described as ambivalent and kind in the conditions of Shinto, an idea that ties Japan less than one historical tradition. As long as the emperor was a head of the state, he had full responsibility for all the actions of the government, unless removed from the constitution.

However, the 1946 postwar constitution states that the emperor is only a symbolic figure without effective power, except for his participation in diplomatic meetings. Political power was not entirely in his hands but had overwhelming dependence on his state ministers. For instance, Katsura Taro, a politician, was accused of not being loyal to the government, which is founded on the Meiji Constitution. In the birth of modern Japan, the Showa and the Meiji emperors toured Japan to be more accessible, and also increased support. In 1923, after the Great Kanto Earthquake, the Showa emperor toured the city, met with the affected, and expressed his solidarity with them. This modernized the emperor’s image, especially through the campaign with him wearing the western dress. In summary, the emperor’s role was to act as a moral force, a unifying authority, and a national identity for Japan, especially after restoration. Therefore, with little political power, still, the idea of unity, represented by the emperor’s position, was greatly significant in imperial Japan (Yamato Glossary/Characters).

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All the emperors are from the lineage of the sun goddess Amaterasu, and therefore considered divine. According to Kojiki, Amaterasu sent her grandson, Ninigi, from heaven after she bestowed upon him the imperial regalia. Later Ninigi’s great-grandson Jimmu became the first legendary emperor of Japan. This claim continued through many centuries until World War II, when Japan was defeated when the divinity claim was renounced by Japan’s emperor. The transfer of the imperial regalia, which comprised of a sword, a mirror, and a string of Jewell's, accomplished an emperor’s new accession. When the emperor sees his reflection in the mirror, in which he beholds his divinity. The sword was handed down to Yamato before it disappeared in 1185 during Dannoura’s battle. This imperial regalia symbolized imperial legitimacy and authority.

Emperor Temmu, the 40th emperor, who was reform-minded, helped bringing reforms mostly on Chinese bureaucratic models. This included codifying the administration of the court growing around the imperial line. He is known for his administration that was so skillful. Civil and legal reforms he established, which enabled him to run a smooth strong centralized government. Believing that the existing history was full of errors, he supervised the compiling of another national history (Griffis).

 Yamato is in the end given the emperor’s honor, having been able to establish his real of stability as well as safety. Also, through the powers befitting an emperor and devotion to ancestors, he resurrects from death. This inspired the songs and rites that are vital parts of imperial funerals that followed in the future. In 1868, the young samurai lead the overthrowing of the feudal government of nearly seven centuries, and there after enthroned a powerless Meiji emperor. This opened Japan to the other world, hence adopting its influences. The new government is a name referring to a new era, Meiji, meaning bright restoration. The resurrection of the emperor represented the restoration of supreme authority back to the imperial dynasty. The survivors of the civil disorders became transformed into pragmatists, who almost overnight became pioneers of what we refer to as modernization (French).  


The emperor during the whole history of Japan played a very important role. The power and authority he bore in that position came directly from the sun goddess Amaterasu through the imperial regalia. He had to safeguard these items, which were a sense of security. He was required to safeguard the constitution governing the state in his time; keep the history of the sovereign people. Though lacked much political authority, he had to exercise his authority to promote civil and legal rights skillfully. Finally, he was required to preside over ceremonies and attend diplomatic meetings.

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