“The year 1940 was the 2,600th anniversary of the accession of the first Emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu, in 660 B.C. The event was entirely mythical; yet, remarkably, the government of Japan was organized under a constitution of 1889 which accepted the event as historical. The unbroken succession of Emperors from Emperor Jimmu was the explicit basis for Japanese sovereignty.
“… It was one thing for the government of Japan to celebrate the anniversary of the mythical first Emperor; it was quite another for the historians of the day to acquiesce in the event. Scientific history entered Japan from the West in the late nineteenth century, and by 1940 it was clear to Japanese historians that the first histories [upon which the myth were based], Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, were not authentic records of the past.
“Japanese historians knew very well that the story of Emperor Jimmu was a concoction made by unknown people, and recorded as fact in those two works. Yet none of the great historians of Japan spoke a word to that effect. A single scholar at Waseda University, Tsuda Sokichi (1873-1961), had published works sceptical of the alleged facts of ancient history; for this he was brought to trial in 1941 on a charge of insulting the dignity of the imperial house.
“… As the twentieth century progressed and Japan’s leaders felt more threatened by the outside world, rationalism in historical and political studies was suppressed in favour of jingoistic incantation of the sacred nature of Japan.”
– Political Thought in Japanese Historical Writing: From Kojiki (712) to Tokushi Yoron (1712), by John S. Brownlee, 1991
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