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(JAPANESE POLITICS and SOCIETY, to 1927 – continued)

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JAPANESE POLITICS and SOCIETY, to 1927 (1 of 9)

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Japanese Politics and Society, to 1927

Political Structure and Patriotism | Cutural Influences from Abroad | Big Business, Labor and Women | Economic Recession and Political Reaction | Japan and the West | Prince Hirohito and more Conflict | Earthquake and death to Ethnic Koreans and Leftists | Prosperity, Liberalism and Conservatism | Economic Depression and Power for Hawkish Soldiers

japan, 1916

Japanese Boy Scouts, 1916.

Political Structure and Patriotism

A Japanese emperor had people he felt obliged to please: powerful families, the court nobility and, most importantly, men known as the Elder Statesmen (Genro). Powerful families were great landowners that had involved themselves in politics, and the most powerful among them – the Satsuma, Choshu, Tosa, Hizen and Higo – exercised power in the form of the Privy Council, which was a behind-the-scenes force that had done much in 1889 in creating Japan's Constitution. The Choshu family dominated the army, and the Satsuma family dominated the navy – both families exercised power in the name of the emperor. For centuries Japan's emperors had been revered by the public as the descendants of gods. But Japan's emperors had been little more than figureheads with ceremonial duties.

Japan's Constitution provided a parliament – the Diet – considered a gift from the emperor to the Japanese people. The emperor was supposed to have supreme authority over parliament while the day to day governing of the nation was in the hands of a prime minister and his cabinet, who were not responsible to parliament but to the emperor. According to the Constitution, the emperor had command over the military and had the power to declare war, to make peace and to conclude treaties. But during crises it had been the Elder Statesmen who were making decisions for the nation and for the emperor.

Japan's parliament had two houses: the House of Peers and the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives consisted of three hundred persons who, at the turn of the century, were elected by between two and three percent of the population: males who paid a sufficient amount in taxes. Members of the House of Peers either belonged to the imperial family or were appointed by the Emperor. The House of Peers could veto legislation passed by the House of Representatives, but it had no authority over government officials, and its control over the budget was restricted. The power assigned to the House of Representatives was taxation – the people, it was imagined, taxing themselves – an unpleasant responsibility conveniently not attributed to the emperor or to Elder Statesmen. But in reality, in the early years of the century the House of Representatives was little more than a rubber stamp for the Elder Statesmen.

During Japan's war against Russia (in 1904-05) the government began taxing more in order to pay for the war, and those who paid taxes felt entitled to a voice in public affairs, and this resulted in the government giving more people the right to vote. Those without this right could express their displeasure only by protest demonstrations or by riots.

And the Japanese occasionally rioted. One such riot took place at the conclusion of the war with Russia. Common people were upset with the treaty brokered by Theodore Roosevelt ending that war. These Japanese were not unlike the English during the Boer War, or the Germans who were more nationalistic and more insistent on victory than their government. The rioters believed that their nation had won a great military victory and that their nation's leaders had accepted an inadequate compensation for all the blood and money spent pursuing the war, and they were quite passionate about it. Angry people burned the homes of government officials. They burned streetcars and police boxes, and they raided police stations. The government proclaimed martial law and dispatched several companies of infantrymen against the rioters. The government shut down all newspapers that were not reliably friendly to the government. In an attempt to mollify public opinion, government officials, including the Home Minister and the Prime Minister, resigned. The riots ended with 471 policemen killed or wounded, 4,550 others dead or wounded, 38 homes and 10 Christian churches destroyed, and about 1,000 persons under arrest.

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