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Kokutai (Kyūjitai: 國體, Shinjitai: 国体, literally "national body/structure") is a politically-loaded word in the Japanese language translatable as "system of government", "sovereignty", "national identity; national essence; national character", "national polity; body politic; national entity; basis for the Emperor's sovereignty; Japanese constitution". The word is also a short form of the (unrelated) name for the National Sports Festival of Japan.


  • Etymology 1
  • Pre-1868 2
  • From 1868 to 1945 3
    • From 1868 to 1890 3.1
    • Meiji Constitution 3.2
    • Taishō Democracy 3.3
    • Under the Public Safety Preservation Law 3.4
  • Post-1945 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


Kokutai originated as a Sino-Japanese loanword from Chinese guoti (Chinese: 國體/国体; pinyin: guótĭ; Wade–Giles: kuo-t'i, "state political system; national governmental structure"). This Japanese compound word joins koku < Chinese guo (國/国 "country; nation; province; land") and tai < ti (體/体 "body; substance; object; structure; form; style"). According to the Hanyu Da Cidian, the oldest guoti usages are in two Chinese classic texts. The 2nd century BCE Guliang zhuan (榖梁傳 "Guliang's Commentary") to the Spring and Autumn Annals glosses dafu (大夫 "high minister; senior official") as guoti metaphorically meaning "embodiment of the country". The 1st century CE Book of Han history of Emperor Cheng of Han uses guoti to mean "laws and governance" of Confucianist officials.


The historical origins of kokutai go back to pre-1868 periods, especially the Tokugawa period (1603–1868).

Aizawa Seishisai (会沢正志斎, 1782–1863) was an authority on Neo-Confucianism and leader of the Mitogaku (水戸学 "Mito School") that supported direct restoration of the Imperial House of Japan. He popularized the word kokutai in his 1825 Shinron (新論 "New Theses"), which also introduced the term Sonnō jōi ("revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians").

Aizawa developed his ideas of kokutai using the scholarly arguments of Motoori Norinaga (1730–1801) that the Japanese national myths in the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki were historical facts, believing that the Emperor was directly descended from the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami. Aizawa idealized this divinely-ruled ancient Japan as a form of saisei itchi (祭政一致 "unity of religion and government") or theocracy. For early Japanese Neo-Confucian scholars, linguist Roy Andrew Miller (1982:93) says, "kokutai meant something still rather vague and ill defined. It was more or less the Japanese "nation's body" or "national structure"."

From 1868 to 1945

From 1868 to 1890

Katō Hiroyuki (1836–1916) and Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835–1901) were Meiji period scholars who analyzed the dominance of Western civilization and urged progress for the Japanese nation.

In 1874, Katō wrote the Kokutai Shinron (国体新論 "New Theory of the National Body/Structure"), which criticized traditional Chinese and Japanese theories of government and, adopting Western theories of natural rights, proposed a constitutional monarchy for Japan. He contrasted between kokutai and seitai (政体 "government body/structure"). Brownlee explains.

The Kokutai-seitai distinction enabled conservatives to identify clearly as Kokutai, National Essence, the "native Japanese", eternal, and immutable aspects of their polity, derived from history, tradition, and custom, and focused on the Emperor. The form of government, Seitai, a secondary concept, then consisted of the historical arrangements for the exercise of political authority. Seitai, the form of government, was historically contingent and changed through time. Japan had experienced in succession direct rule by the Emperors in ancient times, then the rule of the Fujiwara Regents, then seven hundred years of rule by Shoguns, followed by the allegedly direct rule of the Emperors again after the Meiji Restoration. Each was a seitai, a form of government. In this understanding, the modern system of government under the Meiji Constitution, derived this time from foreign sources, was nothing more than another form of Japanese government, a new seitai. The Constitution was nothing fundamental. (2000:5)

Fukuzawa Yukichi was an influential author translator for the Japanese Embassy to the United States (1860). His 1875 "Bunmeiron no Gairyaku" (文明論の概略 "An Outline of a Theory of Civilization") contradicted traditional ideas about kokutai. He reasoned that it was not unique to Japan and that every nation could be said to have a kokutai "national sovereignty". While Fukuzawa respected the Emperor of Japan, he believed kokutai did not depend upon myths of unbroken descent from Amaterasu.

Meiji Constitution

The kokutai acquired an additional meaning.

The Government created a whole perfect new cultural system around the Tennou [Emperor], and the kokutai was the expression of it. Moreover, the kokutai was the basis of the sovereignty. According to Tatsukichi Minobe, kokutai is understood as the "shape of the Estate" in the sense of "Tenno as the organ of the Estate", while the authoritarians gave the kokutai a mystical power. The Tennou was a "god" among "humans", the incarnation of the national morals. This notion of kokutai was extra-juridical, more something cultural than positive. (2006:n.p.)

This stemmed from Itō Hirobumi's rejection of some European notions as unfit for Japan, as they stemmed from European constitutional practice and Christianity.[1] The references to the kokutai were the justification of the emperor's authority through his divine descent and the unbroken line of emperors, and the unique relationship between subject and sovereign.[2] The "family-state" element in it was given a great deal of prominence by political philosophy.[2] Many conservatives supported these principles as central to Nihon shugi, "Japanism", as an alternative to rapid Westernization.[3]

Taishō Democracy

From the Xinhai Revolution to the enactment of the Peace Preservation Law (1911–1925), the most important pre-WW2 democracy movement "Taishō Democracy" occurred. During the Taishō Democracy, the political theorist Sakuzō Yoshino (1878–1933) rejected Western democracy minshu shugi (民主主義 lit. "people rule principle/-ism") and proposed a compromise on imperial democracy minpon shugi (民本主義 "people based principle/-ism"). However, as Japanese nationalism grew, questions arose whether the kokutai emperor could be limited by the seitai government.

The republicanism, democracy and other anti-Tenno ideologies.[4] The Tokkō ("Special Higher Police") was established as a type of Thought Police to investigate political groups that might threaten Tenno-centered social order of Japan.[5]

Under the Public Safety Preservation Law

  • Brownlee, John S. "Four Stages of the Japanese Kokutai (National Essence)", 2000.
  • Daikichi, Irokawa. The Culture of the Meiji Period. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970.
  • Gauntlett, John Owen and Hall, Robert King. Kokutai no hongi: cardinal principles of the national entity of Japan. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University press, 1949.
  • Kitagawa, Joseph M. "The Japanese Kokutai (National Community) History and Myth", History of Religions, Vol. 13.3 (Feb., 1974), pp. 209–226.
  • Valderrama López, Josefa. "Beyond words: the "kokutai" and its background". Història Moderna i Contemporània, 2006. ISSN 1696-4403.
  • Miller, Roy Andrew. Japan's Modern Myth. New York: Weatherhill, 1982.
  • Antoni,Klaus Shintō und die Konzeption des japanischen Nationalwesens (kokutai). Der religiöse Traditionalismus in Neuzeit und Moderne Japans (= Handbuch der Orientalistik. Band V/ 8). Brill, Leiden 1998, ISBN 90-04-10316-3.
  1. ^ W. G. Beasley, The Rise of Modern Japan, p 79-80 ISBN 0-312-04077-6
  2. ^ a b W. G. Beasley, The Rise of Modern Japan, p 80 ISBN 0-312-04077-6
  3. ^ James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 427-8 ISBN 0-393-04156-5
  4. ^ James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 390 ISBN 0-393-04156-5
  5. ^ W. G. Beasley, The Rise of Modern Japan, p 184 ISBN 0-312-04077-6
  6. ^ Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa to the Present, p198-9, ISBN 0-19-511060-9, OCLC 49704795
  7. ^ James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 428 ISBN 0-393-04156-5
  8. ^ a b Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa to the Present, p199, ISBN 0-19-511060-9, OCLC 49704795
  9. ^ a b Piers Brendon, The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s, p441 ISBN 0-375-40881-9
  10. ^ James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 465-6 ISBN 0-393-04156-5
  11. ^ W. G. Beasley, The Rise of Modern Japan, p 187 ISBN 0-312-04077-6
  12. ^ James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 470 ISBN 0-393-04156-5
  13. ^ a b c Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa to the Present, p196, ISBN 0-19-511060-9, OCLC 49704795
  14. ^ James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 454 ISBN 0-393-04156-5
  15. ^ Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II, p246 1976, Chelsea House Publishers, New York
  16. ^ Ivan Morris, The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan, p309 Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975
  17. ^ Masanori Ito, The End of the Imperial Japanese Navy p28 New York W.W. Norton & Company 1956
  18. ^ Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa to the Present, p219-20, ISBN 0-19-511060-9, OCLC 49704795
  19. ^ James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 467 ISBN 0-393-04156-5
  20. ^ Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa to the Present, p195-6, ISBN 0-19-511060-9, OCLC 49704795
  21. ^ James L. McClain, Japan: A Modern History p 469 ISBN 0-393-04156-5


See also

Nevertheless, some authors, including Miller (1982:95), believe that traces of Japanese kokutai "are quite as vivid today as they ever were."

By the surrender of Japan in 1945, the significance of kokutai diminished. In autumn 1945, GHQ forbade circulation of the Kokutai no Hongi and repealed the Peace Preservation Law (15 October 1945). By enact of the Constitution of the State of Japan (3 May 1947), Tenno's sovereignty and the lese majesty were repealed.


[21] Because many religions had figures that distracted from the central emperor, they were attacked, such as the

"Japanist" unions endeavoured to win support by disavowing violence and pledging support for nation and emperor.[19] Nevertheless, because of the mistrust of unions in such unity, the Japanese went to replace them with "councils" in every factory, containing both management and worker representatives to contain conflict.[20] Like the Nazi councils they were copying, this was part of a program to create a classless national unity.[13]

[18] During World War II, intellectuals at an "overcoming modernity" conference proclaimed that prior to the

This term, and what it meant, were widely inculcated in propaganda.[15] The final letters of kamikaze pilots expressed, above all, that their motivations were gratitude to Japan and to its Emperor as the embodiment of kokutai.[16] A sailor might give his life to save the picture of the Emperor on a submarine.[17]

For the leaders of Japan's "fascist-nationalist clique", writes Miller (1982:93), "kokutai had become a convenient term for indicating all the ways in which they believed that the Japanese nation, as a political as well as a racial entity, was simultaneously different from and superior to all other nations on earth."

Some objections to the founding of the Taisei Yokusankai or Imperial Rule Aid Association, came on the grounds that kokutai, already required all imperial subjects to support imperial rule.[14]

By 1937, "election purification", originally aimed at corruption, required that no candidate set the people in opposition to either the military or the bureaucracy.[13] This was required because voters were required to support imperial rule.[13]

The Ministry of Education promulgated it throughout the school system.[8]

It is clear that at this stage in history, they were no longer dealing with a concept to generate spiritual unity like Aizawa Seishisai in 1825, or with a political theory of Japan designed to accommodate modern institutions of government, like the Meiji Constitution. The committee of professors from prestigious universities sought to define the essential truths of Japan, which might be termed religious, or even metaphysical, because they required faith at the expense of logic and reason. (2006:13)

Brownlee concludes that after the Kokutai no Hongi proclamation,

It clearly stated its purpose: to overcome social unrest and to develop a new Japan.[10] From this pamphlet, pupils were taught to put the nation before the self, and that they were part of the state and not separate from it.[11] It also instructed them in the principle of hakkō ichiu, which would be used to justify imperialism.[12]

The document known as the Kokutai no Hongi was actually a pamphlet of 156 pages, an official publication of the Japanese Ministry of Education, first issued in March 1937 and eventually circulated in millions of copies throughout the home islands and the empire. It contained the official teaching of the Japanese state on every aspect of domestic policy, international affairs, culture, and civilization. (1982:92)

The national debates over kokutai led the Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoe to appoint a committee of Japan's leading professors to deliberate the matter. In 1937, they issued the Kokutai no Hongi (国体の本義, "Cardinal Principles of the National Body/Structure; see Gauntlett and Hall 1949). Miller gives this description.

Brave warriors united in justice
In spirit a match for a million --
Ready like the myriad cherry blossoms to scatter
In the spring sky of the Showa Restoration.[9]

Great efforts were made to foment a "Japanese spirit" even in popular culture, as in the promotion of the "Song of Young Japan."[9]

[8] in 1932 but forced to resign after an assassination attempt and vehement criticisms that he was disloyal to the emperor.House of Peers Minobe was appointed to the [7].lèse majesté This was regarded as [6]

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