Interpreting Nationality In Postwar Japan: “Disrespectful” Representation Of The Emperor

Other Titles


This dissertation aims to understand the articulation of nationality in postwar Japan by looking at literary texts that theorize the nature of the emperor and "emperor system" (tennōsei) as a phenomenon specific to the postwar itself. I analyze texts that comment on the nature of "disrespect" toward the emperor, and in some cases perform that very disrespect, which I argue is ultimately the deconstruction of the emperor system itself. The texts under consideration were written at two points in time: the immediate postwar (around 1946) and the time marked by protests of the renewed U.S.-Japan Security Treaty in 1960. I consider these points in time as "discursive spaces" that the texts capture by bringing together a constellation of images and forces, and that allow for productive cross-reading of the texts. Chapter One introduces some of the theoretical premises for the project, and emphasizes my focus on the discursive representation of the emperor as opposed to the tendency of scholarship to focus on the individual emperor as historical and political agent. Chapter Two traces the invention of the postwar emperor system to narratives deployed to project the image of a human and sympathetic emperor who at once broke with the past and represented absolute continuity with it. C hapter Three turns to Nakano Shigeharu's postwar writings on the emperor that show the contradictions inherent in the "emperor system" itself as well as the role of media and society in reproducing it discursively. The narrator of his text, Goshaku no Saku, believes that the only means to liberate the emperor from the emperor system is to take the notion of the "human" emperor to its logical conclusion: "elevate" the emperor to the status of citizen. Chapter Four argues that Sakaguchi Ango's postwar writing on the emperor leads to very similar conclusions, but frames it as "descent" to humanity. Chapter Five considers the context of 1960 in which the postwar narrative of the peaceful emperor became challenged by remilitarization a nd the renewed Security Treaty; the image of the emperor was mobilized not to unify opposing views, but rend them apart. I argue that Fukazawa Shichirō's Fūryū Mutan depicts this very disunity. However, reaction to the text as event shifted the debate from literary representation of the emperor to the ways that the terrorism circumvents free speech. In Chapter Six, I argue that Mishima capitalizes on this shift and creates a moral equivalence between terrorism and political revolt by defining a notion of militaristic glory as the protection of Japanese culture. In the process, he designs a theory of emperor system that reproduces a foreign fantasy. Chapter Seven argues for the relevance of asking today the same questions raised by the authors. ii

Journal / Series

Volume & Issue



Date Issued




nationality; kokutai; emperor system


Effective Date

Expiration Date




Union Local


Number of Workers

Committee Chair

Sakai, Naoki
Sakai, Naoki

Committee Co-Chair

Committee Member

de Bary, Brett
Hirano, Katsuya
de Bary, Brett
Hirano, Katsuya

Degree Discipline

East Asian Literature

Degree Name

Ph. D., East Asian Literature

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

Related Version

Related DOI

Related To

Related Part

Based on Related Item

Has Other Format(s)

Part of Related Item

Related To

Related Publication(s)

Link(s) to Related Publication(s)


Link(s) to Reference(s)

Previously Published As

Government Document




Other Identifiers


Rights URI


dissertation or thesis

Accessibility Feature

Accessibility Hazard

Accessibility Summary

Link(s) to Catalog Record