The ‘Showa’ Restoration (Japan)

November 1930; Hamaguchi Osachi shot in the street / ndl.go.jp

November 1930; Hamaguchi Osachi shot in the street / ndl.go.jp

The Showa Restoration . The word showa means ‘Enlightened Peace’ in English. It was chosen as a ‘reign name’ by the Emperor Hirohito. It is hard not to see this as ironic. However, a reliving of the true word was attempted by several young officers during the 1930s; the intention was to restore the ‘true relationship’ between the Emperor and his people, by eliminating party politics, ridding Japan of political parties as a whole, and all democratic institutions at the same time.

Most junior officers came from the Japanese countryside, from rural families which had suffered too much during the Great Depression of 1929/30, when their silk industry exports, especially to the USA collapsed. Much the same happened to the cotton industry. The officers had grown up to be anti-capitalist and critical of the ‘financial cliques’ which were accused of self-interest at the cost of national interests.

The politicians agreed to limit the size of navies at the Naval Conference in London in 1930, where the Japanese military budget was also reduced. Prime Minister Hamaguchi Osachi was assassinated in that year, dying of his wounds after several shots were fired at him in the street. In 1931 things became worse when a plot to destroy the Cabinet in session was revealed; the plan was to attack the Cabinet building from the air, in Japanese fighters. The conspiracy was betrayed but the ring-leaders received remarkably mild sentences; in fact they were ‘reprimanded’ and sent to postings outside Tokyo.

Shortly afterwards Prime Minister Tsuyoshi was murdered by naval and army officers and again the court’s sentence astonished everyone by its mildness (4 years imprisonment). Politicians lost their morale and gave up having cabinet meetings, and no party politician agreed to serve as prime minister until 1945, after the atomic bombs.

The most serious attack had been in 1936, during the February Uprising when several key ministers were killed. Understandably, politicians were not prepared to confront the army, which then began choosing its own ministers. Everyone in the Cabinet was a military choice. During the Sino-Japanese War (1937 – 1945) whatever political parties remained wholeheartedly supported the army. In 1940, one year before the unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor, the politicians disbanded themselves, and party politics were not resumed until after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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