Hirohito’s role and significance in the growth of Japanese militarism


• Tsinan incident 1928

• The Manchurian Incident 1931

• Shanghai 1932

• February rebellion 1936

• Sino Japanese war 1932-41

• The influence of Hirohito’s court group

• Emperor worship to gain military support

• Hirohito’s unwillingness to control the army

• Hirohito’s position as supreme commander

• The military taking matters into their own hands

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Emperor Hirohito’s reign was marked in its early stages by rapid militarisation, later manifesting itself by aggression against Manchuria and China. From the 1930s til the end of WWII the cult of the emperor was a crucial factor in the growth of nationalism and Japans aggressive territorial expansion. Between the wars, extreme nationalists in the army increasingly controlled political life, reviving traditional beliefs, such as the divinity of Emperor Hirohito, to create an autocratic state. The military had substantial influence on the diet through the role of the military ministers and political assassinations during the 1930s. The military, backed by nationalist sentiment at home, embarked on a policy of colonial expansion to relieve pressure on the overpopulated country. This led to the conquest of Manchuria-1931, the invasion of China-1937, and the Sino Japanese war.

Hirohito succeeded the throne in 1926 and his reign was known as the Showa era. Throughout his sovereignty Hirohito was firmly supported and guided by the members of the court group. These men helped to resolve disputes within the government, gather information for the emperor and exert political influence on him. Hirohito had command over the court group, whose main objectives were to assist Hirohito in exercising real supervision, help him in choosing prime ministers, and to ensure that his will was incorporated into the decisions of the cabinet. Throughout his reign emperor Hirohito proved to be a politically active emperor. Although Hirohito maintained a very keen interest in the military side of his public life, he and his associates preferred to concentrate on domestic affairs. Hirohito had an unwillingness to be used by the party government, yet he was less than enthusiastic in asserting over his armed forces the control that was required of him by law. This heightened the military’s thinking that they could take matters into their own hands, which began after enthronement of the emperor.

The enthronement of Emperor Hirohito began the official and accelerated emperor cult. The enthronement pronounced that the emperor, who would rule as well as reign, had been made into a living god and the Japanese people were taught that they held an innate moral superiority as a people and a race. The long enthronement process built up and released enormous popular energy and enthusiasm, and played a major role in enticing people to the side of the throne. The early Showa nationalism was embodied by a cult figure and commended militarism, dictatorship and the glorification of war. The military throughout the 1930s used the emperor ideology to rally the Japanese nation to support the growth of militarism and expansion.

Hirohito was utilized by the military to gain national support through the revival of the emperor cult. The armed forces also applied to their full advantage Hirohito’s reluctance to punish perpetrators of army cover-ups. Hirohito was an active emperor among the diet; he intervened in the decisions of the party cabinets and the Privy Council and forced the diet to halt debates to suit his convenience. Yet extreme nationalists in the army increasingly controlled political life. The army and navy could make it impossible for a prime minister to govern by refusing to support the cabinet and not allowing an officer to be allocated as the minister for the armed force. The views of extremists became increasingly influential in Japan during the 1930s, and they used intimidation and assassination of politicians, businessmen and armed service leaders as means to achieve their aims. The military honed the idea of their right to supreme command by the stoking up of emperor worship which lowered the level of national political debate and gained public support. The first main instance of the army spiralling out of control, through loosening discipline is the Tsinan incident in 1928.

Hirohito had