An eye-opening account of the Japanese Imperial family from the Meiji Era onwards. It is explosive, controversial and fascinating. It chronicles the colourful life of the bon vivant Meiji Emperor, followed by the reign of the Taisho Emperor and whispers of his mental insanity in corridors of power, to direct war-time involvement on the part of the Showa Emperor and senior-ranking princes and their subsequent bailouts and evasions of war crimes in the post-war era, and finally to the effective hostage of the Imperial Family in the hands of Right-wing conservatives up to the present day.
Two things from the book impressed me in particular:
The greater of the two was the book’s narration of Imperial Family’s involvement in a scheme that came to be known as Golden Lily – essentially an operation to loot gold, valuables, and treasures throughout conquered Asia and ship them back to Japan, and, failing to do so, hide them in the Philippines. The treasures left in the Philippines came to be known as Yamashita’s Gold. The implications of this story are so great that the authors decided to cover it in detail under a separate title – namely, Gold Warriors: America’s Secret Recovery of Yamashita’s Gold (2005).
The lesser of the two was its depiction of the divisive faultlines among members of the Imperial Family who followed different religious faiths, and their subsequent political actions which seemingly flowed from theses beliefs. For instance, the Empress Sadako followed the Quaker faith and she plotted with her circle of pro-peace Christian contacts to frustrate the ambitions of war-hawking nationalists. My only complaint is that I wish more space were devoted to the new religion (some say ‘cult’) called Oomoto [大本], which counted among its believers Lady Chizuru (niece of the Empress Haruko) and many influential aristocrats and military officers, and whose founder Onisaburo Deguchi [出口王仁三郎] (1871–1948) was rumoured to be an illegitimate child of Prince Taruhiko (1835 – 1895) of the House of Arisugawa (a rumour which he himself also encouraged). It would have been interesting to undertake a separate study to look at the religious forces behind the key actors of the Pacific War in Japan.
The book is a rich portrait of characters against a complex, historic background. I thoroughly enjoyed it.