Kenneth J. RuoffApr 23, 2021
Japan's Imperial House in the Postwar Era, 1945-2019
Ken Ruoff’s Japan’s Imperial House in the Postwar Era, 1945-2019 (Harvard UP, 2020), is a revised and expanded version of the author’s The People’s Emperor: Democracy and the Japanese Monarchy, 1945-1995 (2003). The book is an extensive and detailed treatment of the Japanese imperial institution as it enters a new era, Reiwa, with the abdication of the Heisei emperor (Akihito) in 2019. In addition to The People’s Emperor’s discussions of the creation of the postwar imperial institution as a “constitutional symbolic monarchy,” the continued (clandestine) role of Hirohito in politics, the postwar emperors’ approach to Japan’s war responsibility, the “massification” of the imperial family as a kind of model “middle-class” household for the postwar, and various forms of resistance from conservatives, Japan’s Imperial House adds two new chapters and an extensive and important addendum to one other. The two new chapters, respectively, provide a retrospective on the Heisei era (1989-2019) and an overview of the challenges facing the imperial line with Akihito’s son, Naruhito, now on the Chrysanthemum Throne as the Reiwa emperor. The addendum is to chapter 5, which discusses the ways in which anti-democratic and otherwise revanchist forces in postwar Japan coopted the playbook of democratic organizing to achieve (largely symbolic) victories. As we discuss in the interview, Ruoff returns to this topic because his analysis turned out to presage the tactics and successes of Nippon Kaigi, Japan’s most influential nongovernmental ultra-conservative lobbying group, during the Abe Shinzō regime.
Terms and names perhaps unfamiliar to some listeners that get bandied about in our discussion include tennō (sovereign, emperor), Yoshida Shigeru (influential early postwar prime minister), Kobayashi Yoshinori (an often-controversial manga artist), and Yasukuni Shrine (which has enshrined prominent Class-A war criminals in addition to the general war dead since March 1978).
Nathan Hopson is an associate professor of Japanese and East Asian history in the Graduate School of Humanities, Nagoya University.