Humanity declaration – 人間宣言 Ningen sengen

When the Second World War ended, one of the conditions imposed to Japan by the United States was that emperor Hirohito had to lose his divine status. The emperor of Japan was considered a god, direct descendant of Amaterasu, the Goddess that created Japan.

Arahitogami (現人神 – now, person, God) means “God that at this moment has a human form” in Japanese language. Hirohito emperor was an arahitogami until 1946 when he was obligated by general Douglas MacArthur to sign a document, probably unique in the history of humanity, called 人間宣言 ningen sengen, that can be translated as “humanity declaration/proclamation”.

By signing the 人間宣言 ningen sengen, emperor Hirohito renounced to his arahitogami (God with human form) status and admitted to be a normal and ordinary human! This is the original document preserved in the National Diet Library:

Ningen sengen. Humanity declaration

This is an excerpt of the document with the most important sentences:

朕ト爾等國民トノ間ノ紐帯ハ、終始相互ノ信頼ト敬愛トニ依リテ結バレ、單ナル神話ト傳説トニ依リテ生ゼルモノニ非ズ。天皇ヲ以テ現御神トシ、且日本國民ヲ以テ他ノ民族ニ優越セル民族ニシテ、延テ世界ヲ支配スベキ運命ヲ有ストノ架空ナル觀念ニ基クモノニモ非ズ

“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. “

One of the problems of this humanity declaration document (人間宣言 ningen sengen) is that even though Hirohito renounced to his divine status, he never denied being a direct descendant of goddess Amaterasu. In other words, the emperor was not a god anymore but he was still a descendant of the gods.

Another problem, is that the word akitsumikami 現御神(Now, Honorable, God) was used in the document instead of 現人神 (Now, Person, God). Notice that the only different character is the one in the middle; however according to some Japanese purists the meaning is somewhat different; the first concept means something similar to “God’s incarnation”. Some members close to the imperial family say that you can lose your 現御神 status (God’s incarnation) without losing your 現人神 status (God with human form)… yes, I know in English it seems practically the same; and the same applies in Japanese, except for some purists. Therefore, Hirohito would have renounced to his akitsumikami 現御神 status but not to his arahitogami 現人神 status.

This vagueness has caused a lot of confusion, in fact if you ask around in Japan, there is still a lot of people that consider the actual emperor a god, and a few people still think that all Japanese people are descendants of the goddess Amaterasu. On the other hand many Japanese people say that signing a paper doesn’t make a god human.

Ningen sengen
Emperor Hirohito in his human form :). Picture from wikipedia.

3 Comments
  • Brad F.

    January 6, 2010 at 5:27 am

    We briefly touched on this in a Japanese history course I took but we barely made it to WWII by the end of the course. I’m glad to see some more detail on it.

    I wonder if this was really a necessary thing? Was it not enough that the US crushed Japan militarily? Was it really right for the US to demolish the foundation on which Japanese society was created? Or was that the only way to change the national mindset into the more civilized society it is today?

    This is a good post and I like how you not only talked about the history of it and the controversy but tied in current public opinion. You make me want to pull out some history books and dig deeper.

  • Ryszard

    January 6, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    “that you can lose your 現御神 status (God’s incarnation) without losing your 現御神 ”

    And where is 現人神? 😀

  • kirai

    January 6, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Ryszard: Thanks for the correction!