Rush Hour of the Gods

State Shinto-ism, oppression of religion, post-war national identity building, and influx of new religious cults.

When I started research for this episode, I thought we would focus on the beginnings of the cult leader Asahara. But instead, everything I was looking at brought me to think more about the context that would allow and nurture a cult like Aum. We have to go back in time, looking at the restrictions Meji era Japan (1868 - 1912) put on religion in an effort to prop up the emperor as a deity to understand what freedom of religion meant for an oppressed nation when the constitution came into effect in 1947.

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Emperor Hirohito 1945 during the war.

and

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General MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito September 1945

Japanese Constitution (Selected Articles:

On War:

Article 9: (1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
(2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

On Religion:

Article 19: Freedom of thought and conscience shall not be violated.

Article 20: Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all.

Match that with a deep and confusing identity shift with a incredible push to modernize results in a wound still open today. As quoted in the show:

There has been much criticism for the blanket exoneration of Emperor Hirohito and all members of the imperial family, including Prince Asaka, Prince Fushimi Hiroyasu, Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni, and Prince Tsuneyoshi Takeda. The French Judge, Henri Bernard, strongly stated in his dissenting opinion that “the failure to try Hirohito ‘nullified’ the trial and made the accused mere ‘accomplices’” The US “went through great lengths to recast the Emperor’s image throughout the trial, a move that contrasted sharply with that of Hitler during the Nuremberg trial”. The historian Herber Bix argues that “MacArthur’s truly extraordinary measures to save Hirohito from trial as a war criminal had a lasting and profoundly distorting impact on Japanese understanding of the lost war.” It is this denial of responsibility or claim of self-defence which distorts history that is truly the most dangerous. It is also the reason why the Chinese and other victims in Asia have reason to still be angry after so many years. Since the Jewish Holocaust, the West and Europe have moved on, but they have never forgotten. The same cannot be said of the events that occured in the East. 

-- (In Search of Justice for China, Xiang Longwan and Maquise Lee Houle

And so it makes sense that without a mandate to (only) believe the Emperor is a god that people would turn to other spiritual practices.

I especially liked the images this video used to describe the fervor for new religions in the post-war era.

Of the many new religions, we focused on Agon-Shu and Soka Gakkai because both have (albeit not of their doing) connections with Aum Shinrikyo.

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Notes and Sources