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.

Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, National Chicken Soup for the Soul Day, and Tideline

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day in the US. Some of you will be observing the “holiday” today (using that uniquely American phenomenon known as the Monday Holiday Move), which keeps you from getting any mail today or doing any banking.

However, it should NOT have prevented you from realizing that yeaterday was the centennial of the end of World War One. I haven’t done a lot of WWI material on this blog (some, not much) because there have been so many experts who would put me to shame.

If you didn’t pay your respects before…pay them now.

By November 1942, the Japanese were beginning to realize that the American lodgement in the eastern Solomon islands was not just serious, but dangerous. Henderson Field was a fully-equipped air base (if extremely primitive) capable of handling long-range bombers that could threaten Rabaul. But earlier Japanese efforts to reinforce the ground forces on Guadalcanal had been unevenly successful, and the logistical situation on the island was increasingly grave. Finally, the superbly trained cadre of prewar pilots was wearing thin, for the Japanese could not rescue downed pilots like the Americans could, and frequently did, and the Australian coast-watchers on several of the islands didn’t take prisoners. At the same time, constant harassment of American supply runs cost time and material that even the Americans could ill afford.

The Japanese, directed by Yamamoto Isoroku, put together a reinforcement convoy of 11 transports backed up by two battleships, two heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, and sixteen destroyers to run down the Solomons starting 12 November, shooting up Henderson Field while depositing another 4,000 men and their equipment, the whole commanded by Abe Hiroaki. Confronting them would be two American battleships, two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and twelve destroyers, with an aircraft carrier available as needed.

Ironbottom Sound, where most of the battle took place, between Savo island (left), and Guadalcanal (right)

The night gunfights that followed were confused enough: I’ll not make them worse this year. What mattered was that the Japanese were stopped, losing both battlewagons and all the transports. What mattered most wasn’t the fact that the Japanese couldn’t shell or reinforce, but that the troops already on the island were starving, and the supplies didn’t make it. The additional 600 Japanese soldiers and sailors that did manage to land just became that many more mouths to feed.

Guadalcanal was an attritional campaign on the scale of Verdun, though shorter and with less fanfare. Unlike Verdun, the Japanese and the Americans were both doing what they had always done: the Japanese attacked, the Americans defended, then attacked. The gates of Paris weren’t at stake at Guadalcanal, but the lifeline to Australia was.

Like the epic struggle then shaping up along the Volga between the Germans and the Soviets at the same time, the Solomons campaign would determine the initiative between the US and Japan for the rest of the war.

This is National Chicken Soup for the Soul Day, for reasons beyond anyone’s ken. Now, as we all know, Chicken Soup for the Soul is a commercial phenomenon, producing 100 million books with over 250 titles in forty languages, pet food, television shows, podcasts, journalism, and licensed products out of Connecticut.  Starting in 1993, motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen produced the first book of inspirational stories they’d heard over the years, simply titled Chicken Soup for the Soul. It took off from there.

Um….no….not in my family.

Just to be clear, I’ve never read any of the books, can’t stand the smell of chicken soup (a friend’s mom made it for every meal) let alone the taste, and I just don’t get the hoopla over it. But, multimedia phenomena are hard to ignore, so I’ll avoid criticism of my own. There have been accusations of plagiarism in some of the books, but it’s hard to plagiarize anecdotes. Some critics have claimed that the books are repetitive and somewhat dull. Others have been inspired. Ah, well.

It is, however, a little ironic that this day falls on 12 November, the day after the American remembrance of the end of WWI, when the 1918 influenza killed more people than the war itself was killing men, women, and children globally, and some clinicians were calculating the end of the human race because they had no idea how to stop it.

At left is an ad that ran in magazines in 1944, typical of the commercial phenomenon of the time. Yes, they wanted to sell chicken soup, and my parents were married in 1943, when my father was in the Army and, obviously, before he went overseas. My dad was not a fan of prepared foods, but regrettably, for the family’s palates, my mom was not a very good cook. This little scene may amuse and may have sold a lot of cans of Campbell’s, but I can practically guarantee you that, given a time machine, you would never have seen it around my parent’s home at any time.

All of this has nothing to do with the Chicken Soup for the Soul, but it is a sort-of lead-in for my next book, Tideline: a Story of Friendship. I’ve talked about it before, but now…it’s probably going to be ready by mid-2019. Here’s a tentative cover:


Tentative cover for Tideline

It’s a story about friends, love, youth, loss, finding yourself, and family secrets, but most of all it’s about the kind of trust that most of us are lucky to have just once in one person. You’ll also learn something about a family with a poor principal cook.

It takes place mostly in metropolitan Detroit and Key West, Florida at two times: 1963 to 1973, and 1985-86, before cell phones, the internet, and popular social media made personal contact between under-40 humans little more than fleshy accessories to digital noise. When the two main characters meet and fall in love it is personal; when they find each other again after half a lifetime apart, it’s still in the flesh.

More as it develops…

Imperial Resignations and National Making Life Beautiful Day

Well, June marches on. School is out or nearly is, for most youngsters. If I recall correctly grade school never finished the year on a Friday, but usually like Tuesday or Wednesday. There was probably a perfectly good reason for that, but I never knew what it was. That or my memory is a little off. Not surprising.

School may or may not be out, but 11 June 1184 BC may have seen the fall of Troy, according to Eratosthenes; there have been numerous historical essays written (including one of mine) on the quasi-mythical siege best known from Homer’s epic poems, but no one has yet to show that there was not an epic fight between the proto-Greeks and the residents of what is now known as Troy VIIa. Also on this day in 1742, Benjamin Franklin finished his design of a stove that came to be named after him. Though his design was inefficient and impractical (and hardly original), it was enough to inspire others to improve on what we would now call a fireplace liner. And on 11 June 1979, the legendary John Wayne (played by Marion Morrison) went to the last roundup. Suffering from cancer off and on for years, his last film appearance, The Shootist (Don Siegel, 1976), was released after he got a terminal diagnosis. Today is also National Corn on the Cob day if for no other reason than someone wants it to be today, and National German Chocolate Cake Day* for the same reason. But today we talk about Japanese emperors and resignations, and about making life beautiful.

The current secession is based on primogeniture, but before the Household Law of 1886 it was much looser: there have been at least nine empresses of Japan ruling in their own right.

The Yamato dynasty is also the longest–by nearly any calculation–monarchic line in the world. The Chrysanthemum Throne of the Empire of Japan is the only one that uses the title “Emperor” at this writing (2018). At one time in the 14th century, there were two emperors, an anomaly that was only resolved by civil war. The Japanese monarchy’s origins in 660 BC are shrouded in mythology. The first emperor of any Japanese Empire, Jimmu, is said to have been a descendant of the goddess Amaterasu. The first Japanese emperor with a provable historical existence was the Kinmei Emperor (539-571). The personal divinity of the Emperors and Empresses of Japan is usually misunderstood in the West. They are not gods in the Abrahamic sense of an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful deity. Rather, they are something like conduits to the divine in the Shinto faith. Divine or not, the current Emperor Akihito (personal name) is the son of the Showa (reginal and posthumous name), Emperor Hirohito.  The current secession is based on primogeniture, but before the Household Law of 1886 it was much looser: there have been at least nine empresses of Japan ruling in their own right.

Arguably, when the Showa Emperor directed his government to accept the Potsdam Declaration on 10 August 1945, he exercised more temporal power than any of his ancestors ever had, or his heirs ever will.

Legally, the emperors of Japan have never had a great deal of power. Even after the Meiji Emperor took a personal interest in the running of his country as a young man in the 1860s, his power was nebulous. He attended ceremonies, made heirs to the throne (which after 1889 Household Law passed the Diet was a requirement), issued rescripts of great and small importance, and waited on his family. Arguably, when the Showa Emperor directed his government to accept the Potsdam Declaration on 10 August 1945, he exercised more temporal power than any of his ancestors ever had, or his heirs ever will.

This first male birth in 41 years assured–for the moment–the succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Until 2007, there was something of a crisis in the succession.  The Constitution of 1947, which left the old Household Law unchanged, did not provide for empresses and did not provide for a regency. The Showa had two sons, Akihito (the current emperor) and Masahito. Akihito also has two sons: Naruhito (the heir apparent) and Fumahito. However, Naruhito has only a daughter. However, Fumahito had a son in 2006, Hisahito. This first male birth in 41 years assured–for the moment–the succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

The critics miss the point of Japan’s monarchy: the throne provides a continuity that no other institution in Japan can.

But there has recently been a different kind of a crisis in the succession: Akihito wants very much to retire. While the succession is clear, it was not clear that the 84-year-old man could legally leave office–even a ceremonial one. On 11 June 2017, the Diet approved a law that allows the Emperor to retire/resign/abdicate. Akihito is expected to abdicate/resign in favor of Naruhito on 30 April 2019, at which point he will become known as the Daijo Tenno, or Joko. Critics, however, say that adherence to the old Household Law only delays the inevitable, that a return to older ways or abolition of the Imperial house altogether would be a better long-term solution. But the critics miss the point of Japan’s monarchy: the throne provides a continuity that no other institution in Japan can.

Today is National Making Life Beautiful Day, a creation of Apriori Beauty LLC, proclaimed by the good folks at the National Day Registry in April 2016. Apriori is a firm that sells high-end cosmetics via their website and through the Avon/Mary Kay model of independent contractors. While there’s nothing wrong with any of these things, I can say that, with my granddaughter working for Aveda, people can spend a great deal to create some image of beauty that is not necessarily their own that lasts maybe twelve hours.

Beauty, true beauty, comes from within, doesn’t it? The picture below, from Geograph in Great Britain, didn’t take someone else’s idea, a small fortune in “products,” or a jostling trip to the mall. Just wait a few hours for the weather to clear. Having a beautiful life isn’t the same as making oneself beautiful: it’s not given, it’s created. And it is continual, no matter what anyone says. And it’s often hard work.


Tideline: just be careful when you cross it

Most of my readers know that I write a lot of military history, but now I seem to have created something that is still anchored in the military but contains no battles, no real fighting at all. It’s called Tideline: A Story of Friendship. It’s about a guy and a gal who start out as childhood friends, lose contact with each other and then find each other again years later. They discover that they are still buddies–the kind of a friend that they can always count on for anything and everything.

The primary story takes place in the 1980s, when they are both in their thirties and serving in the military: he in the Army as a Ranger, she in the Navy as a diver. Their attraction vexes them because they know that their services, regardless of their status, could separate them as required. The journey of these two buddies who become lovers and their determination to make both their relationships and their families, their careers and their lives work is the main focus: making a beautiful life, one way or another. Tideline I expect will be ready for publication after the first of the year (2019).

OK, it’s a shameless plug. Sue me. What are blogs for?

* German chocolate cake originated in the US in about 1852, when Mrs. George Clay developed a recipe for cake using Sam German’s sweet chocolate.