Is the Japanese Emperor really a God?

I was speaking with Scott Z in December on the ArtistFirst Radio Network in the U.S.A and he told me he was surprised that the Japanese people believe their emperor is a god. I told Scott that Emperor Hirohito renounced his title to divinity at the end of World War Two. However, after the show I decided to do some research and I’ve discovered there are actually several schools of thought on this subject.

It is a fact that a request was made by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers that led to the Humanity Declaration by the Emperor Shōwa (known as Emperor Hirohito in the West) on 01 January 1946, denying the concept of the emperor of Japan being a living god.

Since this time, most Western people and many Japanese people have upheld the belief that the Japanese emperor can no longer be referred to as a human god.

However, Jonathan Watts reported in The Guardian in 2002 that the “Shinto-oriented rewrite of history at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo denies that Emperor Hirohito renounced his divinity in 1946, as most westerners and Japanese believe.”

Jonathan Watts also reported that the following words are clearly written on a display at Yasukuni, the controversial wartime museum and shrine in Tokyo:

“The occupation forces tried to sever the bond between the emperor and the Japanese people,” it says. “They widely advertised the new year statement as the ’emperor’s declaration of humanity’, but in actuality the emperor had done no more than to announce a return to the principles stated in Emperor Meiji’s [1868] charter oath.”

In 2002, former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori declared that Japan was a “divine nation with the emperor at its core”. Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paid several visits to the Yasukuni shrine from 2001 and the current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also visited the Yasukuni shrine in 2014.

The Shinto religion in Japan has 110 million registered followers. Some Shintoists believe the Japanese emperor is a direct descendant from the sun goddess Amaterasu-ōmikami but before anyone argues that the Japanese emperor is merely human and it would be impossible for him to call himself a divine being, it’s important to understand that the Shintoist’s understanding of the emperor’s divinity is very different to the Christian’s belief of who is a god. Some Japanese people say it is merely lip-service in Japan and the Japanese emperor is a person who may be worshipped but not in the Christian biblical sense of the word and the Japanese emperor may have been referred to as a divine being but this cannot be compared in any way to God in the Christian tradition.

Below is a photo of the reigning Emperor of Japan (天皇陛下 Tennō Heika), Emperor Akihito and his wife Empress Michiko (@reuterspictures).

Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko wave to well-wishers as they listen to the Imperial Guard music band's performance in the Imperial Palace compound in Tokyo

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