Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors (軍人勅諭)

The Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors was Shochoku (imperial edict) that Emperor Meiji issued to soldiers of the army and the navy on January 4. Its formal name was "The Imperial Rescript granted to Soldiers and Sailors."


It is said to be drafted by Amane NISHI (illuminator) and improved by Genichiro FUKUCHI, Kowashi INOUE and Aritomo YAMAGATA. At the time of the grant, the newly organized military had been shook up due to social unrest caused by Seinan War, Takebashi and Movement for democratic rights, and therefore, in order to settle the situation and establish a mental pillar they drafted the imperial rescript, which was made from the admonition for military men printed and distributed to all the officers and soldiers by Aritomo YAMAGATA, director general of the army, in October, 1878.

On June 19, 'Resolution on eliminating Imperial Rescript on Education and others' by the House of Representatives and 'Resolution on confirming the lapse of Imperial Rescript on Education and others' by the House of Councilors confirmed it became null and void along with Imperial Rescript on Education


While ordinary imperial edicts had a Chinese classics flavor, the rescript was written in the Japanese literary style with hentaigana (anomorous Japanese cursive syllabary), and military men were required to recite it despite its long passages consisting of nearly 2,700 letters and characters in total. It was taken for granted that officers and soldiers in Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) in particular recited all the sentences. On the other hand, Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) often stated 'It is necessary to remember the spirit of the rescript. Sailors should rather memorize each rule than all the sentences of the rescript,' and they rarely needed to recite all the sentences.

The rescript consists of the preamble, the main part and the last part: the preamble indicates Emperor holding supreme command, saying 'Being Emperor, I myself am commander in chief,' the main part tells military men five types of virtue of loyalty, courtesy, military prowess, faithfulness, and frugality, and the last part orders soldiers and sailors to follow and practice them sincerely.

Particularly in the point of 'loyalty,' military men were ordered not to engage in politics, saying 'Military men are neither perplexed at political opinions nor involved in politics.'
On the side of the Army (and a part of the Navy), however, since the imperial rescript was given by Emperor ahead of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, there was an idea that the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors secures their independence from the government and the parliament (Some members of the Army even interpreted 'Military men are neither perplexed at political opinions nor involved in politics.' as 'Military men need not care about what the government and statesmen say'). On the side of the Navy, most thought the rescript ordered them not to engage in politics, but there were some radicals who caused the May 15th Incident, terrorist assassination, that resulted in the end of party politics.

In terms of the war, an old saying 'Life is heavier than Mount Taishan in a sense, and lighter than a feather of a stork in another sense' was put in a phrase 'Keep it in mind that justice is heavier than a mountain and life is lighter than a feather of a stork,' that was an order meaning 'Do not waste life usually, but sometimes die for justice, for example for Emperor and the state' (cf. Senjinkun military code says, "Do not live as a captive to be subjected to humiliating treatment", and the Senjinkun idea of denying surrender), though why it was rephrased is unclear.

By the way, although some materials show this imperial rescript with letters of 'Onna (name) gyoji (imperial seal)' at the end, Emperor Meiji signed the rescript without putting gyoji ('Onna' was written on prints) and gave it directly to the Army and the Navy (It was notified by Minister of Army to the members of the Ministry as 'Meiji 15, Ministry of Army, Otsu No.2'), and therefore, to be exact only 'onna' was inscribed on prints.

For reference, 御名 was pronounced 'Onna' in the Army.
In the book titled 'Watashi no naka no Nihongun (Japanese Army in myself)' by Shichihei YAMAMOTO (published by Bunshun Bunko), one combat medic drank in a banquet of a troop, and said in a loud voice, 'Totsugeki Ichiban, the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors is finished with women!'

Keiichi ITO was in the central China during the war (as a lance corporal of the Army) and when he became a novelist of military history later, he compared Senjinkun military code with the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors and said, '"the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors," that was issued in 1882, has a literary style with more solemn rhythm than "Senjinkun military code," pure national consciousness is seen through it, and it gives impression of a kind of epic literature instead of the military. "The Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors" reflects the rise of a nation and the army. Though "Senjinkun military code" can not be compared with "'the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors," there is no mentality seen through "Senjinkun military code," but just a list of items to be pushed to soldiers vainly.
Did they think on earth that natural soldiers could follow every clause of restriction imaginable?
Anyway, "Senjinkun military code" reflects the drastically weakened militaty organization, and therefore, a clever soldier would have already expected the crisis of the army when he read it.'

Heishitachi no Rikugunshi (Army History of Soldiers)' written by Keiichi ITO, published by SHINCHOSHA Publishing Co., Ltd., in 2008

[Original Japanese]