Threats from The Old Order: The Dismantling of State Shintō


Threats from The Old Order
The Dismantling of State Shintō

Chia Li Ting, Yale-NUS College 

(Initially published in YNUJ Volume 2, 2018)


State Shintō featured prominently in Japanese politics between the years 1868 and 1945. With Shintō beliefs first used as a form of justification of the Meiji Emperor’s reign in 1868, Shintō became institutionalized as a national faith. However, Shintō beliefs about the divinity of the Emperor, as well as alleged ideas about the superiority of the Japanese people and land, were then accused by the Allied Powers as the roots of Japan’s militarism and ultranationalism during World War II. Therefore, after the Japanese surrendered, the United States occupied Japan and forced the Japanese government to dismantle State Shintō by issuing the Directive for the Disestablishment of State Shintō. However, can we assume that State Shintō was the primary cause in Japan’s militarism and ultranationalism? This essay seeks to answer this question by examining the Directive’s stated motivations and analyzing the wording of clauses that respond to these specific motivations. It argues that the portrayal of State Shintō in the Directive reveals the United States’ distrust of a government that involved itself in a state religion, therein reflecting a threat that State Shintō had posed to the Western political system that advocated the separation of church and state. It thus argues that State Shintō, while no doubt a factor in Japan’s militarism and ultranationalism, had been portrayed such that it became a convenient scapegoat, and that further research should be conducted to unveil the underlying motivations behind the call for its disestablishment.

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