Meiji Constitution and Valentine’s Day 2019

Mid-February: still ice everywhere despite what may have come as a thaw in late January–it often does for a few days in the Great Lakes. Then it drops down to sub-zero again, even after Groundhog Day. Don’t expect the mall snow piles to be gone for another couple of months. Climate change my royal behind…

Today is many things, but the three most important, in order are:

  • My granddaughter Madeline’s  birthday, and I won’t say how old she is other than she’s eligible to vote and can drink legally in any state of the Union;
  • Foundation Day in Japan, celebrating the traditional beginning of the Empire of Japan in 660 AD;
  • Constitution Day in Japan from 1889 to 1947.

The Constitution of the Empire of Japan, known colloquially as the Meiji Constitution, was proclaimed on 11 February 1889 by the Meiji Emperor Mutsuhito and became effective on 29 November 1890. Before then Japan, like many other states, had no written constitution but a body of law, traditions, and habits for formalizing the government and institutions. That it was issued on Japan’s Foundation Day was not a coincidence, because it in effect reinforced the fact that, though many changes social and technological changes were sweeping across Japan in the late 19th century, the emperor and the samurai were still on the top of Japan’s heap.

One of the salient features of the Meiji Constitution was that it was in effect the Emperor’s to obey or ignore at his discretion. The US Constitution outlines a structure for a government, then goes on to limit the powers of that government. Whatever the Emperor did under the Meiji Constitution or–more ominously–whatever was done in the Emperor’s name was OK. It was his to dispose of or obey at will. In practice, the Diet was used to raise taxes and pass civil laws, and the courts were there to legitimize governmental actions. The primary restraint to any of the three emperors who reigned under it was that it provided a veneer of Western appearance that was almost universally recognized. The Meiji Constitution thus made many in the West (those who never read it) believe that Japan was just like them.

The Meiji Constitution set up a government, allowed for a politically-chosen and elected Diet (analogous to the House of Representatives), and an upper house of nobles (more like Britain’s House of Lords than the US Senate), a chief executive (Prime Minister) and a cabinet to control governmental functions. It then states that the Prime Minister was to be appointed by the Emperor on the advice of a privy council and the Genro of elder statesmen (who were all men) and they didn’t need to be members of the elected Diet–and in practice they rarely were. Thus, the government of Japan was not necessarily responsible to the electorate.

Finally, the Meiji Constitution made the military co-equal with the civil government, in effect making it a fourth branch of the Emperor’s controlling apparatus. If the military didn’t send a minister–a War Minister/general from the Imperial Japanese Army and an admiral/Navy Minister from the Imperial Japanese Navy–to a Prime Minister’s cabinet, or if one service or the other withdrew its minister, the government had to be dissolved and, usually, another Prime Minister chosen. The military did this when they didn’t get their way over and over again right up to 1941.

Generals and admirals were Prime Ministers about a third of the time between 1890 and 1945. From the outbreak of WWII in Europe to the surrender, “political parties” in Japan as they were understood in the West ceased to exist, replaced by the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (IRAA), an amalgamation of all Japan’s political parties (except the communists, founded in 1922, which was repressed) into one. By that time it no longer truly mattered what the civil government had to say: the decision to attack the West in 1941 and all the planning for it took place under Konoe Fumimaro, the last non-military Prime Minister before August 1945. 

The Meiji Constitution was technically revised in 1947, but it was an entirely new document under its same official name, fashioned after the US Constitution by the occupation forces. In it, the Emperor was reduced to a figurehead; the Prime Minister elected by the Diet, and the use of force and role of the military severely curtailed. No longer a veneer, Japan’s Constitution may one day end up as a model for a UK Constitutuion, should they ever write one.

Valentine’s Day 2019

Yeah, OK, a greeting card holiday. Ain’t we tired of saying that all the time, every year?  Yeah, it “celebrates” an execution–maybe (there are at least three saints named Valentine who were said to have been executed on 14 February). Only Medieval legends had such a saint performing marriage rituals, not any contemporary accounts doing so in their Third Century lives. Then what? Hey: it’s mid-February, time to feel warm about someone else. 

Initial cover for Tideline

Family loves you if you think you deserve it or not. You only have to love them back.

From Tideline

Yeah, this is another plug for another book. That’s what this blog is for.  This one’s not about anybody getting killed, though it does involve the military.  Tideline: A Story of Friendship should be ready mid-year. As my loyal readers (all three of you) know, Tideline is about two people growing up in the ’50s and ’60s  in suburban Detroit. They spend their teen and most of their young adult lives apart for reasons beyond their control. Yet, for all those years–nearly half their lives–they never entirely forget each other.

A friend will help you move; a buddy will help you move a body.

From Tideline

He joins the Army for a lot of reasons; she, the Navy for just as many. They run into each other in 1985 in the book’s first prime location, Key West Florida. They learn of each other’s lives again, yet their services could rip them apart at any time. But these two survivors of the Summer of Love (1967) cannot resist the temptations of the flesh without deciding on limits to their passions: a tideline.

TIdeline is a story of enduring friendship, heartache, and joy, adventure, and romance, of trust and two people’s grim determination to not just stay together but to convince their services to allow them to stay together and keep their careers. It was a time of chaos in the ’60s when the streets flooded with protests, and the ’80s iin the turmoil of widespread social, legal and structural changes in the post-Vietnam US armed services, and when “social media” was still a written letter.

Hey, not bad, eh? Look for Tideline about mid-year…probably.


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