Tuesday, May 10

Holiday Fracas

“Showa Day” or “Green Day”?
[Contributed by Yoshihiro Yoshii and Fanni Terrette]

Recently, in Japan, a movement has sprung up among rightwingers, including the mayor of Tokyo and a number of celebrities and other public figures, to replace the current name of a national holiday, “Green Day,” with “Showa Day.” This has been seen by some as a symptom of rising nationalism within Japan. The following post analyzes a rightwing website and like-minded websites to which it provides links that all make arguments for preferring the name “Showa.” However, first, let us briefly consider the sense of these names.

“Showa” refers to Emperor Showa, or Emperor Hirohito as he is called outside of Japan in accordance with his family, rather than his honorific, name. His reign was from December 25, 1926 to his death on January 7, 1989. During this period, Japan’s postwar economy developed rapidly into the second largest in the world. Shortly after the Emperor’s death, the Diet changed the name of the holiday that formerly celebrated his April 29 birthday to “Green Day” because, the argument went, Emperor Showa loved nature. Undoubtedly, the thought also occurred to the Diet members that celebrating a deceased Emperor in name might not create the most relevant or inspiring holiday, especially as other Emperors (or, possibly, some would allow, Empresses) assume their privileged functions down the decades. Now, however, some argue that “Green Day” is not a suitable name for the holiday and that, moreover, “Green Day” should be moved to May 4 so as to be completely dissociated from a revived “Showa Day.”

To appreciate the mindset of the most ardent Showa enthusiasts, it is important to recall, as well, that according to Article III of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan as it remained in force until Japan’s defeat in WWII, the “Emperor is sacred and inviolable. The Sacred Throne was established at the time when the heavens and earth became separated (kojiki). The Emperor is heaven-descended, divine and sacred; He is pre-eminent above all His subjects. He has indeed to pay due respect to the law, but the law has no power to hold Him accountable to it. Not only shall there be no irreverence for the Emperor’s person, but also shall He neither be made a topic of derogatory comment nor one of discussion.” (Beasley, W.G., Japanese Imperialism 1894-1945, translation modified. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987: 32.)

Bearing the above historical background in mind, let us ask what exactly is at stake in this holiday fracas.

First, read this typical comment that, like the others that are quoted below, comes from the website of the self-glossed “Showa Day” Promotion National Network (SDPNN hereafter and, in Japanese, 「昭和の日」推進国民ネットワーク):

“The name "Green Day" is just a meaningless symbol that neither refers to a specific time period or to Emperor Showa. The government might have chosen the name in consideration of leftwing groups and without reflecting on public opinion.”

Consider, next, the following claim for the suitability of the later date:

This year’s “Golden Week” [the holiday week that falls at the juncture of April and May] must be a very suitable week for an ethnic celebration full of hope.

“今年のゴールデンウイークは、希望に満ちた民族の祭典にふさわしい週間になることは間違いない。” 「緊急声明書」 (source)
The language recalls the government propaganda that was employed in and before WW II. What do the authors mean by “民族の祭典” (“ethnic celebration”)? If this is supposed to refer to the Yamato race, which is very clearly an amalgam just as is every other presumably “distinct” race, do the authors harbor the notion that Japan consists of only the Yamato “race”? This claim would be easy to undermine by pointing out that the Ainu “race,” entrenched in Hokkaido since time immemorial, still persists, despite its near total appropriation into “mainstream” Japan, as a heritage of distinct cultural and racial components. If, however, “民族” is meant to include all Asian peoples, it would be hard to accept the implication that all Asians would want to celebrate “Showa Day” alongside this group of rightwing enthusiasts in Japan. One has only to consider the current tensions across the region. A revival of resentment over massive crimes perpetrated by previous Japanese leaders and the refusal of the current Japanese leadership to take full account of them is in full swing. This seems to indicate little shared enthusiasm across Asia for celebrating Japan’s former claim to divine leadership. Nonetheless, in their shortsighted nostalgia for notions of national glory and divine election, members of the SDPNN seem to believe that the questions of the holiday’s name and date concern “Japanese” alone. Not only is this clearly not the case, but the “Japanese” whom the holiday is supposed to concern exclusively do not constitute a pre-given, homogeneously racial or ethnic group. In the end, the SDPNN’s attempt to revive Emperor worshipping appears to be a desperate but futile effort at fixing Japanese “identity” once and for all by aligning the “Japanese” under the hold of a formidable figurehead.

Despite itself, the SDPNN, which would like to lay down the law of Japanese identity by means of reinvigorated Emperor worshipping on a national scale, provides a number of reasons for objecting to a return to “Showa Day.” One contributor to the SDPNN website provides two :


Only some people say that “Showa Day” is unnecessary; so, it seems, doesn’t it, that most citizens favor “Showa Day.”


There is no anti-“Showa Day” movement among citizens or the members of the Diet, so it is clear that a majority of Japanese citizens is calling for “Showa Day.” (quoted from 「昭和の日Q&A」)
It is absurd to argue thus that because there is no anti-“Showa Day” movement in the Diet, a majority of Japanese favors replacing “Green Day” with the name “Showa Day.” It would be just as persuasive to argue that, since there is no anti-Hula Hoop movement in the current Diet, April 29 should be declared “National Hula Hoop Day.” Indeed, it would make even more sense to declare April 29 or another day “National Hula Hoop Day” since hula hoops have till this point met with no opposition while the proposed return to “Showa Day” has. (Here, for instance, is the website of an "anti-Showa project.")

An April 11 article in The New York Times also warns of growing nationalism in Japan as evidenced by the "Showa Day" movement and the problem of textbooks recently sanctioned by the Japanese Ministry of Education that whitewash Japan’s imperialistic aggression. (Disregarding strong opposition from all over Asia, Japan’s Ministry of Education approved, on April 5, a New History Textbook that was submitted to it by the rightwing group, "The New History Textbook Compilation Committee.") Some members of the SDPNN seem to believe that the name of the holiday is a problem that concerns the Japanese alone, but can the Japanese government afford to think of such issues in the isolationist logic of previous centuries, as if nothing had occurred during all that time?

Consider, next, the following passage that was referenced at the SDPNN website. It attempts to establish, on the basis of an unsubstantiated anecdote, the existence of a sort of pan-Asian fervor for what could be called “Showanism.”

Title: Precious Showa History as Recounted by a “Malaysian.”
I had a chance to talk to a Malaysian on Jan. 9, 1988, 2 days after Emperor Showa’s death. After sharing his deepest sympathies over Emperor Showa’s death, he called the Emperor “Showa the Great” and told the following story: During the Great Asian War, we Asians fought against white Westerners. We drove the Westerners away and were overjoyed. Japan was the only country that fought with all its might, and the War was concluded by an imperial decree. We cannot fail to appreciate the role of “Showa the Great” in this turbulent period. (78-year-old, retired professor, Setagaya-ku, quoted in「国民の声」)

昭和天皇が崩御された二日後の平成元年1月9日のこと。来日した知人のマレーシア人と話す機会があった。… 彼は私にお悔やみを述べた後、昭和天皇を「昭和大帝」と呼び、次のような話をした。大東亜戦争は世界を相手に戦ったもので、緒戦で欧米の白人勢力を追い払い、アジア諸民族は歓喜した。アジアで国家の総力を挙げて戦ったのは日本だけだったが、天皇の詔勅で戦いの矛を収めた。… 激動の60数年間の中心にいた「昭和大帝」の役割は無視できるものではない。
It would require a heavy dose of naivety to assume that the “Malaysian’s” comments, assuming they have been reported faithfully here, reflect the attitudes of the vast majority of Asians. Possibly the “Malaysian” remains unaware of the fact that the Emperor’s forces killed millions of Asians, submitted women to sexual slavery, and raided the natural wealth of Asian nations with impunity? It would be difficult to imagine that, knowing all of these things, the “Malaysian” would deny the insensitivity towards other Asians of self-righteous Showa worshipping in Japan. Similarly to the professor cited above, some of those who write at the SDPNN under the rubric of “ethnic voices” (「国民の声」) use the expression “sacred and wise decision”(「ご聖断」) to refer to the decree issued by the Emperor to signal Japan’s cessation of hostilities in WWII. Although the one who declared the end of the war in an official capacity was, indeed, Emperor Showa, it is no less true that Emperor Showa was responsible for preventing the war from breaking out in the first place. Moreover, his “decision” was hardly sacred and “wise” in some courageous or self-assuming way, given that he was compelled to make it by General MacArthur’s forces. Had he not, his reign would surely have met a grim conclusion. Thus, it was less an act of “wisdom” than it was of self-preservation or commonsensical (and lamentably belated) prudence.

If certain Showa enthusiasts wish to impose their program on the nation, then, in our view, it would be necessary that they do so to have others recall not only Japan's spectacular postwar economic development but also the murderous folly of the war years and the crimes of Japan's fascist rulers.

As things stand under the current rightwing leadership of Prime Minister Koizumi, the “Showa Day” bill has passed the House of Representatives and is being discussed in the House of Councils (Upper House).

If anyone would like to express opposition to “Showa Day,” please write in English or Japanese here. Those who see good reason for a return to “Showa Day” may share their opinions by sending them as a comment to this post or as E-mail that we will upload as a separate post for the sake of discussion.