Japan′s Holy War

The Ideology of Radical Shinto Ultranationalism

Japan′s Holy War

Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society

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Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: 1 figure Published: March 2009

Author: Walter Skya

History > Asian History, Politics > Political Science, Religious Studies

Japan’s Holy War reveals how a radical religious ideology drove the Japanese to imperial expansion and global war. Bringing to light a wealth of new information, Walter A. Skya demonstrates that whatever other motives the Japanese had for waging war in Asia and the Pacific, for many the war was the fulfillment of a religious mandate. In the early twentieth century, a fervent nationalism developed within State Shintō. This ultranationalism gained widespread military and public support and led to rampant terrorism; between 1921 and 1936 three serving and two former prime ministers were assassinated. Shintō ultranationalist societies fomented a discourse calling for the abolition of parliamentary government and unlimited Japanese expansion.

Skya documents a transformation in the ideology of State Shintō in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth. He shows that within the religion, support for the German-inspired theory of constitutional monarchy that had underpinned the Meiji Constitution gave way to a theory of absolute monarchy advocated by the constitutional scholar Hozumi Yatsuka in the late 1890s. That, in turn, was superseded by a totalitarian ideology centered on the emperor: an ideology advanced by the political theorists Uesugi Shinkichi and Kakehi Katsuhiko in the 1910s and 1920s. Examining the connections between various forms of Shintō nationalism and the state, Skya demonstrates that where the Meiji oligarchs had constructed a quasi-religious, quasi-secular state, Hozumi Yatsuka desired a traditional theocratic state. Uesugi Shinkichi and Kakehi Katsuhiko went further, encouraging radical, militant forms of extreme religious nationalism. Skya suggests that the creeping democracy and secularization of Japan’s political order in the early twentieth century were the principal causes of the terrorism of the 1930s, which ultimately led to a holy war against Western civilization.


“Ambitious in scope and argumentation, Walter A. Skya’s book raises provocative questions about the relationship between religion and nationalism; the role of ideology in inspiring and justifying acts of violence; and the resonances among Italian fascism, German national socialism, and Islamic fundamentalism.” — Eiko Maruko Siniawer, Perspectives on Politics

“Skya’s book is an exciting contribution in the field of State Shinto studies.” — Mark MacWilliams, Religious Studies Review

“The target design on the front cover of Walter A. Skya’s Japan’s Holy War . . . leaves a lingering image. Readers of the book are later informed that the design is an illustration of Shinto cosmology drawn in the early twentieth century by Kakehi Katsuhiko, a scholar of law and Shinto classics. . . . The book is unique as the focus is not on politicians or military officers as per usual, but on scholars who helped shape dominant political thought in Japan from the Meiji Restoration to the lead-up to the war in Asia and the Pacific.” — Yoko Harada, Asian Studies Review

“Walter Skya has written an excellent overview of changing formulations of imperial ideology from the Meiji period until 1945, especially as they were articulated by Hozumi Yatsuka, Minobe Tatsukicki, Kita Ikki, Uesugi Shinkichi, and Kakehi Katsuhiko. . . . I have no doubts that Japan scholars in a range of disciplines will benefit greatly from Skya’s analysis of emperor ideology, as will graduate and advanced undergraduate students.” — Christopher Ives, Journal of Asian Studies

“What makes Walter Skya’s study such an important contribution is that it fills in a large gap in our understanding of a crucial period in modern Japanese political history—the period which led Japan into an alliance with the European fascist powers and into disastrous wars first with China and then with the Western liberal democracies. . . . Skya’s analysis of the ideological forces at work in prewar Japan will undoubtedly be a major influence on all future scholarship on this period.” — Roy Starrs, Journal of Church and State

Japan’s Holy War makes an important contribution to an understanding of Shinto ideology. Skya overturns the view that the ideology underwent no significant changes, challenging assumptions about the primacy of the ideas of Hotsumi and presenting pioneering analyses of the works of Uesugi and Kakehi. Skya has been thorough in his research of these theorists.” — Janice Matsumura, Canadian Journal of History

“The careful reader will come away with a very detailed overview of prewar Japanese fascism. The book is very detailed, very well written, and carefully researched. Japan’s Holy War is a classic work that should be on the reading list of any scholar of Japanese history who wishes to gain some deeper insights into the direction of Japanese politics from the late 1920s through World War II. A Japanese translation of this book should be made as soon as possible. Skyra is to be commended for this major academic achievement.” — Daniel A. Métraux, Virginia Review of Asian Studies

“The study may help illuminate some otherwise indecipherable currents of thinking that exist in Japan even today.” — Andrew J. Nathan, Foreign Affairs

“Walter Skya deserves praise for writing what is perhaps the only extensive study in English in decades that focuses on right-wing Shinto nationalism until 1945. . . . [T]his book is an important contribution to ongoing discussions on the significance of Shinto in modern Japan’s political arena.” — Fabio Rambelli, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Japan’s Holy War is an absolutely outstanding and necessary work, a major contribution to international scholarly debate. Walter A. Skya gives the most convincing account to date of Shinto’s ideological implications. His book will become the standard work on the intellectual and ideological history of modern Shinto.” — Klaus Antoni, University of Tübingen

“Walter A. Skya has something new and important to say about Japanese nationalism, and he says it through compelling, thorough research and documentation. Over and against the excessively abstract analyses that see Japanese nationalism as a monolithic, ahistorical force, he reveals how it changed as it responded to contingent events. Such an exciting, theoretically informed, comparative study of Japanese nationalism is long overdue.” — Kevin M. Doak, author of A History of Nationalism in Modern Japan: Placing the People

“Japan’s Holy War is an important work. Walter A. Skya shows clearly that religious ideologies play various roles in public life; State Shinto transformed from an ideology deeply supportive of entrenched authority to one profoundly and violently opposed to it.” — Mark Juergensmeyer, author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Walter Skya is Director of the Asian Studies Program and Associate Professor of History at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

I. Emperor Ideology and the Debate over State and Sovereignty in the Late Meiji Period

1. From Constitutional Monarchy to Absolutist Theory 33

2. Hozumi Yatsuka: The Religious Volkisch Family-State 53

3. Minobe Tatsukichi: The Secularization of Politics 82

4. Kita Ikki: A Social-Democratic Critique of Absolute Monarchy 112

II. Emperor Ideology and the Debate over State and Sovereignty in the Taisho Period

5. The Rise of Mass Nationalism 131

6. Uesugi Shinkichi: The Emperor and the Masses 153

7. Kakehi Katsuhiko: The Japanese Emperor State at the Center of the Shinto Cosmology 185

III. Radical Shinto Ultranationalism and Its Triumph in the Early Showa Period

8. Terrorism in the Land of the Gods 229

9. Orthodoxation of a Holy War 262

Conclusion 297

Notes 329

Select Bibliography 363

Index 379
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4423-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4425-4
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