Institutionalized Fascism Shinto

Seminar Paper, 2012
11 Pages, Grade: 1


Shintō Ideology in the 20th Century

Shintō (神道) is a religious idiom of the Japanese people which is bound to ancestral worship, customs, attitudes, and lifestyle; moreover it is the creation myth of the Japanese. It is manifested through shrines, festivals, and culture. Shintō, the divine way or ‘The Way of the Gods’ has its beginnings around 2000 B.C.E., and was not so named until the arrival of Buddhism in Japan around 600 C.E.[1] Its focus is on “three central aspects of the path: affinity with natural beauty, harmony with the spirits, and purification rituals.”[2]

Originating presumably from agricultural societies worshipping, Shintō retraces its beginnings to the spirits (神 Kami) who founded the secular and spiritual world. According to Shintō, several spirits formed the heavens and the earth, and subsequently 10 deities were born, of whom Izanagi and Izanami[3] created the Japanese Islands.

Later, bushidō (武士道), ‘the Way of the Warrior’ was added into Shintō’s concept. Bushidō was originally a chivalry code of the Samurai, but like the Christian western cultures, its emulation became a defining characteristic of the culture itself. Both, the Way of the Warrior and the Code of Chivalry have been engrained by centuries of cultural exposure that it has become a basis of moral code and behavior in their respective cultures.

With the arrival of Buddhism and the Confucian thought, Shintō began to assimilate. In the 18th century, a move towards a pure form of Shintō was sought by Motoori Norinaga most famously. He contended that Shintoism had to be cleared from foreign influence in order to understand oneself as Japanese. Hence, a return to a pure Shintō belief was set into motion.

During the Edo period (江戸時代)[4], Japan’s ruling elite followed strict politics of isolationism. This protected the long established feudalism in Japan, while western revolutions had forced its popular sovereignty onto its nobility. The powerful class of the daimyo (大名 lords) repressed modern thought of Enlightenment to ensure the ancient ways and with that their power base. The installed rigid monarchy was led by a shogun, but the actual power lay with the lords. A conscious decision to abstain from global affairs and its exposure of different thought proved of course eventually fruitless.

The resulting Meiji Revolution (1868 until 1912) installed the monarch firmly into his power position. Emperor Meiji and his advisors led Japan into the modern age. Their aim was to modernize Japan in economically, industrially, and militarily, after seeing the gap between their own development and the threatening western powers. Nevertheless, Japan was to remain true to its Kokutai (國體 sovereign, national essence or identity) by returning to its roots on which Shintō was the unifying factor. Great scholars of the time are Hozumi Yatsuka and Minobe Tatsukichi. Those men set the intellectual framework for the combination of the worldly powers of the emperor and his divine right to do so. Refraining to any modern European thought, the emperor was the reincarnation of the sun goddess Amaterasu Ōmikami (天照大神/天照大御神), and with that the legitimacy and divinity by birth appointed ruler.

The constitution aiming for reform ensured the survival of the monarchy by a move which outcome those creators of the writing had so not intended: Article 1 makes the emperor head of state and a deity. As a deity the emperor was infallible, but as the head of state he was infallible due to his divinity. To overcome this apparent incongruity in the spirit of the Meiji Restoration, democratic representation and the appointment of ministers were installed. The politicians then had to affect the proposed legislature by signature after a reviewed proposal by the emperor. This way, a decision could be made for the welfare of Japan to include the spiritual leader and the government. All power lay with the head of Japan, the emperor. But he in turn was dependent on the advice of his ministries. The ministries equally answered directly to the emperor, all ministries had the same access ability. In theory, it was a decent compromise between a king and his subjects. But practice showed a much different picture. As much as Japan was acquainted to stratification of the people it is surprising that this did not reflect in its constitution: Nobody was responsible. The emperor was by default infallible, therefore could not be held responsible; in theory it was the government by countersignature, but in reality, nobody could be held there responsible either as nobody had any official authority. It would soon unravel into a convoluted political intrigue and even assassinations. Moreover, the constitution didn’t account for the most important factor of all concepts to regulate humanity: human character itself. But for now, the revolutionists of the Meiji restoration were able to master the balancing act between spiritual commitment and worldly necessity.


[1] (Fisher 2002, pgs 510-11)

[2] (Fisher 2002, pg 216)

[3] (Skya, Japan's Holy War: The Ideaology of Radical Shinto Ultranationalism 2009)

[4] 1603 until 1868

Excerpt out of 11 pages


Institutionalized Fascism Shinto
University of Alaska Fairbanks
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Shinto, Ideology, Religion, Imperial Japan, WWII, Ultra-Nationalism
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Claudia Cease (Author), 2012, Institutionalized Fascism Shinto, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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