In recalling the summer of 1945 in "Zoku Darakuron" (Discourse on Decadence: Part II), author Ango Sakaguchi (1906-1955) vented his disgust with the Japanese people: "They wept, urging one another to bear the unbearable and accept the nation's defeat (in World War II) because this is the order of none other than their majesty the emperor. Liars! Liars! Liars!"

In reality, the Japanese had been sick and tired of the war, and Sakaguchi decried their deceitfulness as "profound and historic."

Not wanting to die, the people had desperately wanted the war to end. Yet, they had chosen to remain silent, acquiescing in policies and values set by the authorities. In Sakaguchi's eyes, their behavior spelled self-deception, pure and simple.

Unlike back when the emperor was the head of state, he is now a "symbol of the unity of the people."

But could we Japanese still be carrying some vestige of the old mentality in our collective psyche?

The duties performed by the emperor, in his symbolic capacity, became increasingly noticeable since the current Heisei Era began in 1989.

In particular, every visit he made to old World War II battlegrounds appeared to have been meant as a humbling reminder of Japan's past history of aggression. In that sense, I believe those visits effectively embodied the spirit of our pacifist Constitution.

But is it good enough if the emperor--the nation's ultimate "authority" figure in the symbolic sense--keeps living up to the spirit of the Constitution on our behalf?

The Japanese expression "omakase minshushugi," which may translate as "passive democracy," implies a society where the people do not bother to vote and simply leave decision-making to politicians and bureaucrats.

By the same token, could we have been guilty of neglecting to think about truly important matters, leaving all the work to the emperor? The uniqueness of Japan's emperor system could well have made that possible.

Perhaps the time has come for us to gradually start changing our attitude and mentality--namely, of simply feeling good about depending on the hereditary imperial system that vests the emperor with symbolic authority.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 25

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.