De Luna, Gabriel

Prior to engaging in World Wars I and II, Japan had undergone the Meiji Restoration wherein the imperial family had taken back it’s governmental position from the shogunate. The Japanese imperial emperors since then embarked on several military campaigns and wars to expand their influence and power such as the Russo-Japanese War, the Sino-Japanese Wars, involvement in World War I and finally in World War II. As the inevitable presented itself with two atomic bombings, formal Russian declaration of war, and continuing losses, Emperor Hirohito formally surrendered and accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. The structure of Japan’s government and economy underwent massive changes as implemented by the United States’ following the conditions of the Potsdam Declaration.

The Emperor’s position in the government and cultural perceptions faced drastic consequences as demanded by the American forces. It had been widely regarded in Japanese culture that the imperial family were descended from the gods and was formally proclaimed in an imperial decree in 1870 (1). In addition to absolute defeat, the Japanese people also witnessed their Emperor humiliated. As demanded of him by Allied forces, Emperor Hirohito declared the “false conception that the Emperor is divine, and that the Japanese people are superior to other races…”(2). These cultural shocks set the tone for the upheaval of their imperial government, constitution, and society.

The Potsdam Declaration explicitly demands that the Japanese dismantle their army and engage in no further military campaigns other than self-defense (3). This was formalized in Article 9 of the new constitution (4) created by the Americans under General Douglas MacArthur’s orders (5). The constitutional monarchy was undone and was replaced by a parliamentary system with three main branches of government, executive, legislative, and judicial. Universal suffrage was granted for free elections. Peerage was also abolished, removing several centuries of tradition from society. The role of state-endorsed religion, specifically Shinto, was abolished as previously all Japanese subjects were forced to acknowledge the Emperor’s divinity within the Shinto context. Japanese citizens could now practice religion freely with the state making no preference. The constitution firmly elevated the social level of equality for women as it granted them new rights in marriage and property (6). This new constitution as created and enforced by the American occupational forces, and as peacefully complied with by the Japanese people, radically altered Japanese society to more closely resemble western societies away from feudalistic values. The effect of the American occupation is still undeniable today as Article 9 remains contentious in Japanese politics over growing concerns of an aggressive China (7).

Image Source:

1. Eiji Takemae, The Allied Occupation of Japan, p. 372

2. Imperial Rescript “Humanity Declaration”,

3. Potsdam Declaration,

4. Constitution of Japan,

5. Creation of the Japanese Constitution,

6. Constitution of Japan, Article 24

7. Norihiro Kato, Japan’s Break With Peace, The New York Times,