The Humanity Declaration (人間宣言 Ningen-sengen?) is an imperial rescript issued by the Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) as part of a New Year’s statement on 1 January 1946 at the request of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers. In the rescript, which follows the Five Charter Oath of 1868, the Emperor denied the concept of his being a living god, which would eventually lead to the promulgation of the new Constitution, under which the Emperor is “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people.”
The rescript is not officially titled, but apart from its popular name, “Humanity Declaration” or “Ningen-sengen”, it is also known as Imperial Rescript on the Construction of a New Japan (新日本建設に関する詔書 Shin Nippon Kensetsu ni Kan suru Shōsho?) and Imperial Rescript on National Revitalization (年頭、国運振興の詔書 Nentō, Kokuun Shinkō no Shōsho?).
Delivery of this rescript was to be one of Hirohito's last acts as the imperial sovereign. The Supreme Commander Allied Powers and the Western world in general gave great attention to the following passage towards the end of the rescript:
- The ties between Us and Our people have always stood upon mutual trust and affection. They do not depend upon mere legends and myths. They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine, and that the Japanese people are superior to other races and fated to rule the world. (official translation)
According to the popular Western view, promoted by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, this challenged the centuries-old claim that Emperor Shōwa and those before him were descendants of the sun goddess Amaterasu, and thus the Emperor had now publicly admitted that he was not a living god. Thus, the same day as the rescript was issued, General Douglas MacArthur announced that he was very much pleased with the Emperor's statement, which he saw as his commitment to lead his people in the democratisation of Japan.
However, the meaning of the exact contents — delivered in stilted, archaic court Japanese — has been the subject of much debate. In particular, for the phrase officially translated into English as "the false conception that the Emperor is divine", the unusual phrase akitsumikami (現御神?) was used instead of the common word arahitogami (現人神, "living god"). While usually glossed as "divinity" in English, some Western commentators, such as John W. Dower and Herbert P. Bix, have argued that this means "manifest kami" (or more loosely "incarnation of a god"), and the Emperor could still be an arahitogami even if he is not an akitsumikami.
Hirohito was persistent in the idea that the emperor of Japan should be considered a descendant of the gods. In December 1945, he told his vice-grand chamberlain Michio Kinoshita: "It is permissible to say that the idea that the Japanese are descendants of the gods is a false conception; but it is absolutely impermissible to call chimerical the idea that the emperor is a descendant of the gods."
Critics of the Western interpretation, including the Emperor himself, argue that the repudiation of divinity was not the point of the rescript. Since this rescript starts with a full quote from the Five Charter Oath of 1868 by the Meiji Emperor, the Emperor's true intention was that Japan had already been democratic since the Meiji Era and was not democratised by the occupiers. As was clarified at a press interview of 23 August 1977, the Emperor wanted the Japanese people not to forget pride in Japan. This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that the imperial rescript was published with a commentary by Prime Minister Kijūrō Shidehara that dwelt exclusively on the prior existence of democracy in the Meiji Era and did not make even passing reference to the emperor's "renunciation of divinity".
- Dower, John W. (1999). Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-04686-1; OCLC 39143090
- Full text of the rescript (in Japanese and English)