Shōwa Period (1926 – 1989)
When the Crown Prince Hirohito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne and became the Emperor Shōwa upon the death of his father in 1926, few could have imagined that his long reign would see such upheaval and radical change. In the midst of strong pro-imperial and pro-military sentiments among both the corps of officers and the rank-and-file, the Emperor and his war cabinet set about expanding Japan’s military presence throughout East and Southeast Asia, eventually carving out an empire that stretched from Sakhalin in the north to the island of Borneo in the south, parts of China to the west and the Micronesian and Marshall Islands to the east. The period also saw atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan’s defeat at the end of World War II. After the emperor announced Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945, and the organs of surrender were signed aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, the Allied occupation of Japan began, lasting until 1952.
Domestically, suppression of political dissent reached its height in the 1930s and 1940s, with communists and others critical of the drive for militarist expansion incarcerated or executed. Concepts of imperial divinity and Japanese exceptionalism that had their roots in the Kojiki and Nihonshoki were given official codification in Kokutai no hongi (“Cardinal Principles of the National Polity”), a government published civic manual that was passed down to schools across the nation. Both Shinto and Buddhist institutions were pressed into service to provide justification and spiritual motivation for the war effort.