Charter Oath of Five Articles (五箇条の御誓文)

Charter Oath of Five Articles was basic policy of the Meiji government represented to Kugyo (court nobles) and lords by the Emperor Meiji (15 years old at that time) on April 6, 1868. Hereinafter referred to as Charter Oath, proper name of Charter Oath of Five Articles.

Drafting process

From the beginning of inauguration, the New Meiji Government advocated fair discussion and sought national policy as the concrete measure. New Year in 1868, Sanyo (councilor), Kosei YURI from Fukui Domain made up Gijinoteitaii Five Articles which was partially similar to Senchu hassaku (the basic outline of the new regime drawn up by Ryoma SAKAMOTO) and submitted to gijo (official post) and vice-president, Tomomi IWAKURA through Sanyo, Michitomi HIGASHIKUZE.

Because Seido torishirabe Sanyo (Councilor in charge of examining regulations) Takachika FUKUOKA added words 'setting up a council by feudal lords' at the beginning of the first article of the Yuri gokajo (Five Articles designed by Yuri) and the title was changed to "kaimei" (pledge of feudal lords), it stepped back to feudalistic direction and the mood of pledge of feudal lords deepened. Fukuoka also requested the Emperor's and lords's commitment to kaimei as an announcement. However this 'kaimei' which treated equally the Emperor and lords was criticized that it was against the principle of Restoration of Imperial Rule.

Therefore general bureau adviser Takayoshi KIDO proposed another form that the emperor pray to tenjinchigi (the gods of heaven and earth) as leader of Kugyo and lords, then pledge and sign together with them, and the proposal was adopted. At that time, Takayoshi KIDO changed 'setting up a council by feudal lords' in the first article of Fukuoka's draft to 'setting up deliberative assemblies widely' and deleted the article 5 which restricted the term of 'choshi' (official) and added newly the article 4 of Kido's final draft and put the order of the whole five articles in proper order and the contents became more universal by those big changes.
Also gijo (official post) and a vice-president Sanetomi SANJO changed 'kaimei' of the title of Fukuoka's draft to 'oath,' therefore Five Articles by Kido was called 'Seimon,' 'Goseimon,' 'Gokajo Seimon,' or 'Gokajo no Goseimon.'
This Kido gokajo (Five Articles designed by Kido) was approved by the Emperor Meiji as Japanese national policy to be declared to the world and was pledged on March 14, 1868 just as Kido targeted to ensure the large scale of Imperial court to the world.
Kido stated later that he aimed 'to pledge with kohaku (nobles), show the direction for people and give the lords of domains responsibilities.'

Ceremony and declaration

The original of Charter Oath was written by Arisugawanomiya Imperial Prince Takahito who gave the Emperor instructions in calligraphy on royal command of the Emperor Meiji on March 13 (old lunar calendar) and shown in the ceremony, Tenjinchigigoseisai (the gods of heaven and earth festival for oath) held at the main building, Kyoto Imperial Palace Shishinden hall on March 14 (old lunar calendar).

Before Tenjinchigigoseisai, Shinkan (a letter in the Emperor's own hand) was presented.

At noon on the same day, Kugyo, lords and choshi in Kyoto were seated. After Jingikan (officer of the institution for dedicating to religious ceremony) performed ceremonies of salt water, sanmai (throwing rice), kamioroshi kami uta (God's song of seance) and offering, the Emperor arrived. In place of the Emperor, gijo and vice-president Sanetomi SANJO read the saimon (address to the gods) in front of the altar. The Emperor prayed to God offering tamagushi (branch of a sacred tree) as heihaku (general term for offering to God) and took a seat again. Sanjo read Charter Oath in front of the altar again and read Ordinance subsequently. After that Kugo and lord prayed to shini (deity) and the Emperor's seat and signed on hotosho (document to reply to the throne) one by one. During the ceremony the Emperor left there. At last Jingi Jimukyoku (Shinto Worship Bureau) held a ceremony of kamiage kami uta (a kind of God's song) and the retainers left there.

Charter Oath was declared by Daijokan nittshi (official publication of the Great Council of State) to the public. The copy of Charter Oath' was in the Daijokan nittshi with Ordinance and response paper, and also the program of Tenjinchigigoseisai, saimon and shinkan were put on before and after the article. At that time Daijokan nittshi was available at urban book stores, but not distributed in the rural areas yet and to the general public Gobo no keiji (five edict boards) taking over traditional policies of bakufu such as a ban of Christianity was posted.

Charter Oath in the system of the Constitution of 1868

In April 1868, the Constitution of the New Meiji Government regime declared 'to define Charter Oath as the objectives, establish new national policy, systems and regulations' and consequently quoted whole texts of Five Articles.
The Constitution of 1868 was affected by the American Constitution, separation of powers (of administration, legislation, and judicature), gosen (mutual election) of government posts, and the introduction of domain parliament were stated and local administration was considered 'shall abide by Charter Oath.'

Other than those, on the declaration of April 12 in the same year it ordered domains to proceed with reform such as selection for talented people based on the purpose of Charter Oath. Also in kokuyusho (document of official notice) to people in various places, Charter Oath was quoted in some cases. For example, in August 1868, 'official notice to shimin (warrior and ordinary people) of Ou region stated 'All affairs of State shall be referred to public opinion through general conferences because affairs of state shall not belong to a single person' based on the first article of Charter Oath, in October of the same year, 'an outline of official notice to residents in Kyoto Prefecture stated 'The government and the people shall act in harmony to accomplish one's aspiration' based on the third article of Charter Oath.

Restoration of Charter Oath

The system based on the Constitution of 1868 was undermined and moreover in 1871 centralization was established by Haihan-chiken (abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures) and the importance of Charter Oath began to fade. On April 1, 1872, when Iwakura Mission was staying in Washington, Charter Oath came to an issue. Takayoshi KIDO said 'That's right. That happened. Do you still remember the Charter Oath?' and seemed to have forgotten the existence.
Takayoshi KIDO was given a copy of Charter Oath at that time and on the next day he said 'I read that Charter Oath carefully more than once and found it remarkable. The main idea shouldn't be changed. I support it with my life as long as I'm alive.'
In 1875, it was declared in Rikkenseitai no Shosho (An imperial edict for the establishment of the constitutional system of government) issued on the initiative of Takayoshi KIDO, 'expand the main idea of Charter Oath…gradually establish constitutional state.'
Charter Oath was positioned as the starting point to realize constitutional government.

The Freedom and People's Rights Movement and Charter Oath

While the Freedom and People's Rights Movement was growing, Charter Oath was accepted generally as a pledge of realization of constitutional government. Especially the first article 'Deliberative assemblies shall be widely established and all matters decided by open discussion' was not intended for popularly-elected parliament at the beginning, but later it was considered as a basis of introduction of popularly-elected parliament. For example, 'petition to establish the Diet' drawn up by Emori UEKI in April 1880 and submitted by Kenkichi KATAOKA and Hironaka KONO is well-known. Until Imperial Diet was introduced based on Meiji Constitution, the Freedom and People's Rights group criticized the government repeatedly demanding realization of Charter Oath.

Charter Oath after the World War Ⅱ

After the war, provisions of Charter Oath was quoted in Humanity declaration of the Emperor Showa on January 1, 1946. When the Emperor Showa saw the draft of prime minister Kijuro SHIDEHARA led by the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers (GHQ) for the first time, the Emperor said 'it is fine, but to show that the Imperial Family has never been dictatorial, it that possible to add Charter Oath of Five Articles of the Emperor Meiji?' and it was added in haste under permission from GHQ.

The emperor said later 'actually it was the purpose of the edict, so the divinity or other things came next. (snip) it was the emperor Meiji who adopted democracy. He also swore to God and issued Charter Oath of Five Articles, by which Meiji Constitution was made, so I think it was necessary to show that democracy was not imported.'

On June 25, 1946, at the beginning of consideration of the Constitution of Japan in the Lower House, Prime Minister Shigeru YOSHIDA referred to Charter Oath.

He answered 'As you know, it can be said that the Constitution of Japan started from Charter Oath. So-called Charter Oath of Five Articles was just written expressing the history and the state of affairs of Japan. The spirit of Charter Oath itself is the national policy of Japan and what Japan is. Seeing Charter Oath, Japan is a democratic country and democracy itself. It is obvious that the national policy was not monarchy or repressive government.'
As the example above, shortly after the war, the ruling class claimed that Charter Oath of Five Articles was the principle of democracy.


The formal title is 'Charter Oath' according to Horei Zensho (Compendium of laws and regulations). The Emperor Meiji called that just 'seimon' (Charter Oath), (for example in Rikkenseitai no Shosho in 1875). The names like 'Gokajo no goseimon' which were often called were common names in later period.

The body of Charter Oath consisted of 5 provisions which the Emperor Meiji swore to the gods of heaven and earth. Also Charter Oath has Ordinance and hotosho.
Each provision of Charter Oath and Ordinance and hotosho are explained as follows;

1. 広ク会議ヲ興シ万機公論ニ決スヘシ (Deliberative assemblies shall be widely established and all matters decided by open discussion.)

(modern written Japanese) 広く会議を興し、万機公論に決すべし。(Deliberative assemblies shall be widely established and all matters decided by open discussion.)

(The fifth article of Yuri draft) 万機公論に決し私に論ずるなかれ。 (All affairs of the state shall be widely discussed and all matters shall not be decided by private discussion.)

(The first article of Fukuoka draft) 列侯会議を興し万機公論に決すべし (Council by feudal lords shall be established and all matters decided by open discussion)

This article was the fifth in the Yuri draft, but it was changed to the first by Fukuoka.
Fukuoka himself looked back that it was because he thought 'establishment of lords conference is the first work to be done.'
(Base on "The origin of Charter Oath of Five Articles and the Constitution of 1868" written by Takachika FUKUOKA in 1919)
(Hereinafter Fukuoka's retrospect is based on this unless otherwise stated.)

Regarding the first part 'Deliberative assemblies shall be widely established,' in the Yuri draft there was no word equivalent to 'assembly' and in the revised draft of Fukuoka 'Council by feudal lords' appeared and at the final stage it was revised to 'widely established deliberative assemblies.'
Fukuoka was asked in later years 'Were you also going to get common people engaged in this assemblies at that time?' and he answered 'It can be interpreted so in retrospect, but I'm ashamed to say, I was not thinking about that at that time' 'Widely didn't mean holding assemblies by gathering people's opinions widely, but holding assemblies widely through all prefectures.'
However the vague revision to 'widely established deliberative assemblies' not restricting 'councils by feudal lords' was extended later by civil rights advocates as the authority to establish popularly-elected parliament, being far from the original intentions of drafters. Also the Meiji government itself interpreted it like that.

The word '万機' in the latter part meant 'every important affairs.'
公論' (open discussion) is a synonym or abbreviation of '公議輿論' which means 'everyone's opinion' or 'open discussion.'
It seems that the phrase '万機公論に決すべし(all matters decided by open discussion)' was adopted from '万機宜しく公議に決すへし (all matters decided by open discussion)' of Senchu hassaku (the basic outline of the new regime) (in 1867) drawn up by Ryoma SAKAMOTO who was a friend of Yuri. In the draft of Yuri it was written first 'banki kogi' (万機公議) and later revised to 'banki koron' (万機公論).

2. 上下心ヲ一ニシテ盛ニ経綸ヲ行フヘシ(All classes, high and low, shall be united in vigorously carrying out the administration of affairs of state.)

(modern written Japanese) 上下心を一にして、さかんに経綸を行うべし。(All classes, high and low, shall be united in vigorously carrying out the administration of affairs of state.)

(The second article of Yuri draft) 士民心を一にし盛に経綸を行ふを要す (All classes, shimin (warrior and ordinary people) shall be united in vigorously carrying out the administration of affairs of state.)

(The third article of Fukuoka draft) 上下心を一にし盛に経綸を行ふべし (All classes, high and low, shall be united in vigorously carrying out the administration of affairs of state.)

High and low' at the beginning was 'shimin' in the Yuri draft, however according to retrospect of Fukuoka 'shimin was changed to high and low to broaden the meaning.'
心を一にして (Shall be united) ' was cliche expressing the unity of Japanese people at the time and was used widely from literary works of Mitogaku (the scholarship and academic traditions that arose in the Mito Domain) academics in the Edo period to the Imperial Rescript on Education.

The word '経綸(the administration of affairs of state)' in the latter part should be carefully interpreted. In Kokuze Sanron (the Three Major Discussion of State Policy) written by Shonan YOKOI for Echizen Domain where Yuri came from, there is a chapter '一国上の経綸 (the administration of affairs of state) ' in which finance and economy were mainly discussed, because Yuri who was affected by that, always used the word '経綸' as economy. Therefore '盛に経綸を行う (vigorously carrying out the administration of affairs of state) ' in this article probably meant 'encouraging economy' for Yuri.
However, at that time the phrase 経綸 (the administration of affairs of state) was not familiar to common people, in Daijokan nittshi of Edo version it was written wrongly as 経論 with wrong pronunciation 'keiron('keirin'is right pronunciation of the word).'
When Fukuoka looked back that later, he said 'Yuri kept saying the word, keirin at that time, so I just left it. Keirin seemed to mean originally economy and finance, but it can be interpreted by each preacher.'
Generally the word, keirin is understood as a word referring not only economic policy but also general national policy.

3. 官武一途庶民ニ至ル迄各其志ヲ遂ケ人心ヲシテ倦マサラシメン事ヲ要ス(The common people, no less than the civil and military officials, shall all be allowed to pursue their own calling so that there may be no discontent.)

(modern written Japanese) 官武一途庶民にいたるまで、おのおのその志を遂げ、人心をして倦まざらしめんことを要す。(The common people, no less than the civil and military officials, shall all be allowed to pursue their own calling so that there may be no discontent.)

(The first article of Yuri draft) 庶民志を遂げ人心をして倦まざらしむるを欲す (The common people shall all be allowed to pursue their own calling so that there may be no discontent.)

(The second article of Fukuoka draft) 官武一途庶民に至る迄各其志を遂げ人心をして倦まざらしむるを要す。 (The common people, no less than the civil and military officials, shall all be allowed to pursue their own calling so that there may be no discontent.)

In the Yuri draft it was the first article and was most emphasized. Yuri wrote later in his book 'Heroism,' 'The common people shall all be allowed to pursue their own calling so that there may be no discontent means a important way to lead a nation, and Good government of all ages and countries comes back to this. Look, constitutional government as well as benevolent rule of wise ruler are neither more nor less than this.' and all politics lead to this after all.

The word '官武一途 (no less than the civil and military officials)' at the beginning was added in the revised draft of Takachika FUKUOKA and '官 (the civil officials) ' means Daijokan (the Great Council of State) and central government, '武 (the military officials) ' means military families and regional lords, '一途 (no less than) ' means united.
In the retrospect of Fukuoka 'No less than the civil and military officials means government of the country in which Imperial court and lords are engaged together.'
This provision declared fulfilling social life of the common people originally based on the intention of Yuri, however, because Fukuoka added 'No less than the civil and military officials' meaning politics, it is pointed out that the point of the provision became unclear (Masatsugu INADA).

4. 旧来ノ陋習ヲ破リ天地ノ公道ニ基クヘシ(Evil customs of the past shall be broken off and everything based upon the just laws of Nature.)

(modern written Japanese) 旧来の陋習を破り、天地の公道に基づくべし。(Evil customs of the past shall be broken off and everything based upon the just laws of Nature.)

(The first draft of Kido) 旧来の陋習を破り宇内の通義に従ふへし (Evil customs of the past shall be broken off and everything based upon accepted orders of the whole world.)

This provision was not in the drafts of Yuri and Fukuoka and appeared by the revision of Kido. Udai' (the whole world) of the first draft of Kido was another expression of 'tenka' 'sekai' (world).
Tsugi' (Accepted orders) means 'orders accepted by common people widely.'
(All from the 3rd edition of "Daijirin Japanese Dictionary" of Sanseido)

Regarding this provision, a researcher before the war Takeki OSATAKE interpreted narrowly that 'evil customs of the past' referred to national isolation as well as expulsion of foreigners and 'the just laws of Nature' meant international public law or international law, and he concluded this provision defined a policy of opening of the country to the world.

However, in contrast, Masatsugu INADA, Masahito MATSUO, Suguru SASAKI explained clearly that 'the just laws of Nature' didn't only refer to a policy of opening of the country to the world and international law. As the reason, they explained that the word 'evil customs of the past' in shinkan (Imperial letter) issued at the same time as Charter Oath was not restricted to national isolation as well as expulsion of foreigners, and Takayoshi KIDO himself used the words 'old customs', 'evil customs of the past' and 'conventions' widely as meaning of 'feudalism to be conquered' or 'closed nature to be conquered', and even Toshimichi OKUBO severely criticized the same thing as 'evil customs of the past' mentioned by Kido for 'corrupt smell of old customes', in other word, though both Satsuma and Choshu provided overseas education secretly and were liberal domains led the movement of overthrowing the Shogunate, Okubo from Satsuma recognized more about dangerous feudalism as well as closed nature than Kido from Choshu, Okubo had to criticize more extreme because of internal affair regarding father and son of the lords of his domain and internal circumstances of his domain (The Teradaya Incident - Seinan War), moreover Tomomi IWAKURA also used just the same words 'the laws of Nature' as 'reason of nature' in other document, which meant totally different from international public law. In general '天地の公道 (the just laws of Nature) ' (宇内の通義 (Udai no Tsugi) ' in the first draft of Kido is interpreted as a way of human based on the workings of the universe.

5. 智識ヲ世界ニ求メ大ニ皇基ヲ振起スヘシ(Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of imperial rule.)

(modern written Japanese) 智識を世界に求め、大いに皇基を振起すべし。(Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of imperial rule.)

(The 3rd article of Yuri draft) 智識を世界に求め広く皇基を振起すへし (Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of imperial rule.)

(The 4th article of Fukuoka draft) 智識を世界に求め大に皇基を振起すべし (Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of imperial rule.)

Regarding 'knowledge shall be sought throughout the world' in the first part, it seemed to have been adopted from 'knowledge shall be taken from the world' from above mentioned Kokuze Sanron by Shonan YOKOI
The foundation of imperial rule' in the latter part means 'the foundation for the Emperor to rule the nation.'

Fukuoka looked back this provision as 'the aim is to break down evil customs from the past like national isolation and to take and accomplish advantages from the world.'


(modern written Japanese) 我が国未曾有の変革を為んとし、朕、躬を以って衆に先んじ天地神明に誓い、大にこの国是を定め、万民保全の道を立んとす。
(modern written Japanese) 衆またこの趣旨に基き協心努力せよ。
(modern written Japanese) 年号月日 御諱 (onimina [real name])

(Meaning) our country is making unprecedented transformation and I, the Emperor take initiative to swear to God, establish this national policy and preserve all the people. (Meaning) everybody, make your own effort supporting each other based of the aim.

This ordinance was announced by the Emperor Meiji to a crowd of his subjects after having swore Five Articles before the altar. The Emperor Meiji didn't actually read out these sentences but Sanetomi SANJO read out in behalf of the Emperor.

At the part of '年号月日' (year, month, date) in the ordinance, actual date was written. 御諱' means real name and the real name of the Emperor Meiji, Mutsuhito was written.


(modern written Japanese) 勅意宏遠、誠に以って感銘に堪えず。
(modern written Japanese) 今日の急務、永世の基礎、この他に出べからず
(modern written Japanese) 臣等謹んで叡旨を奉載し死を誓い、黽勉従事、冀くは以って宸襟を安じ奉らん。
(modern written Japanese) 慶応四年戊辰三月 総裁名印 公卿諸侯各名印 (on March 1868, signatures of president, Kugyo and lords.)

(Meaning) the wish of the emperor is lofty which make us strongly impressed. (Meaning) this is exactly our urgent business of today and permanent base. We subjects will gracefully accept the wish of the Emperor, pledge our lives, engage diligently and make the Emperor feel at ease, hopefully.

Hotosho was a document that his subjects expressed their intention to follow the Emperor, which had the signature of the president and the other subjects. On March 14, 411 Kugyo and lords signed on it and the others did it later. Other than Kugyo and lords, former hatamoto (direct retainers of the Edo bakufu) holding more than 1,000 koku territory, who became direct retainers of the Emperor in May of the same year joined. After all, 544 Kugyo and lords as well as 288 the other people signed on it. However, there are no signatures of kingmakers of the new government including Takayoshi KIDO.

The date of hotosho was written as the 4th year of Keio era, but by the edict of the practice of assigning one era name to the reign of each emperor, it was changed to the first year of Meiji era, back in January 1 (different from changing the name of an era after Taisho). Therefore it is official that 'the 4th year of Keio era' is to be read as 'the first year of Meiji era' here.


Japanese-style painter Nanyo INUI painted a picture that Sanetomi SANJO was reading out Charter Oath at the festival of the gods of heaven and earth and the lord of Tosa domain, the Yamauchi family devoted it to the Meiji-jingu Shrine in 1928. It is on display as the title "Charter Oath of Five Articles" in Seitoku Kinen Kaigakan (Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery) in the outer garden of the Meiji-jingu Shrine. It also often appears in school text books and history books.

When Junichiro KOIZUMI was the Prime Minister, he often used the phrase 'all matters decided by open discussion' from Charter Oath.
In 2001 the policy speech of Prime Minister Koizumi was published as a book with the title '万機公論に決すべし (all matters decided by open discussion).'

On July 7, 2005, there was news report that the draft made by Kosei YURI and improved by Takachika FUKUOKA was auctioned and 5 days later Fukui Prefecture announced successful bid for 23,888,000 yen. It was shown in Fukui library in Fukui City and Fukui Prefectural Wakasa Library & Life-Long Learning Center in Obama City.

The agreement including 5 items made between the National Tax Administration Agency and Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Korean resident in Japan is also called Charter Oath of Five Articles sometimes. The National Tax Administration Agency do not admit the existence of the agreement.

[Original Japanese]