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HOME  > Past issues  > 2014 June 11 - 17  > What was the prewar Imperial Rescript on Education?
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2014 June 11 - 17 [EDUCATION]

What was the prewar Imperial Rescript on Education?

June 16, 2014
Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is strengthening his resolve to impose his definition of “patriotism” on public education. Correspondingly, calls are emerging for the return of the prewar educational policy endorsing and promoting militarism, the Imperial Rescript on Education.

In 1890, the Emperor Meiji presented “virtues” that his “subjects” had to follow. The Rescript cited such virtues as filial piety to parents, fraternal ties of brothers, and marital harmony, and concluded that the subjects in emergencies must devote themselves to serve the country under the Emperor.

Education Minister Shimomura Hakubun and former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro are well-known advocates for the Rescript, saying that the prewar virtues can be a good thing to reintroduce even today.

The Rescript in the virtues suggested that wives defer to husbands so that they can maintain a happy marriage. As for the filial duty to parents, the Rescript encouraged the absolute power of fathers in families and the patriarchal family system. All these ideas are completely different from the ideal of the present Constitution.

Horio Teruhisa, professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo, said, “The Emperor system ideology before the war’s end existed as a center of political and spiritual authorities. This system took shape after the enactment of the 1879 Constitution of the Empire of Japan and the following Imperial Rescript on Education which drove school children to support the war of aggression.”

The imperial government distributed copies of the Rescript and a portrait of the Tenno to all elementary schools and they enshrined this as a set inside a “sacred” place constructed near school buildings. When coming and leaving school, pupils had to make a bow to the portrait and Imperial Resctipt. At the time of special occasions, children had to assemble and lower their heads before the Emperor’s portrait. The school principal respectfully took the Rescript out of a wooden box and read it out. Everyone had to stand still and listen to the principal reading the Rescript.

In doing so, prewar and wartime Japan indoctrinated the people into unrestrained loyalty to the Tenno and the patriotic spirit. Some school heads even died trying to save the portrait and the imperial decree from fires and bombings. Some teachers lost their jobs for irreverence because they neglected or forgot to bow properly before the “sacred” place.

The Abe Cabinet has exhibited hostility toward the postwar policy of education and is intending to force blind “patriotism” on school education in the name of educational reform. Stressing specific normative and moral consciousness and lashing out against progressive or moderate school textbooks, his government is intensifying its political intervention in the sphere of education.

Horio said, “We all should learn about what the Imperial Rescript on Education really entailed and about the history about how the Rescript was actually used. Now is the time to teach children in schools the importance of peace, democracy, and fundamental human rights as the present Constitution guarantees as well as nurture children’s belief so that they can stand up to protect the constitutional principles.”

Past related article:
> Education minister praises imperial rescript on education [April 9, 2014]
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