Today I was poking around Japan’s National Diet Library (more or less equivalent to the US’ Library of Congress) website, and the amount of amazing material that’s available to anyone who can read Japanese and navigate their search engines is simply breathtaking. I’ll be bringing you highlights from time to time:
Imperial Diet archives – Way back in 1889, when Japan was actively aping Western culture in a mad scramble to avoid colonization, a legislature called the Imperial Diet, based on the Prussian and British systems, was established. While the body had only limited powers and was only briefly considered to serve its purpose, to this day the Japanese government claims bragging rights as “Asia’s oldest democracy.”
Anyway, as part of its (exhaustive) Birth of the Constitution of Japan online exhibit, the National Diet Library has made public the Imperial Diet records from September 1945 (after the Allied forces first landed in Japan) until March 1947 (when it was shut down leading up to Japan’s new constitution). I certainly hope they’ll release the rest of the records going back to 1889. Incidentally, the entirety of Japan’s laws dating back to the Meiji constitution is available here in case you were wondering.
The records (written in old-style Japanese) are a rather difficult read, but here’s a random sample from Japan’s first postwar prime minister, Shigeru Yoshida:
November 29, 1945 (When Yoshida was Foreign Minister):
State Minister Shigeru Yoshida: As to Mr. Fuke’s question, I regret that there was a problem with my answer, I apologize… so I will answer once again. The whereabouts of our compatriots in Manchuria and North Korea is extremely important, I worry on it night and day, and we are making all possible efforts by various means, but while it is truly regrettable, we have not as of yet been able to acquire accurate information. We do receive bits of lopsided information from time to time. According to what we’ve received, depending on the region, conditions are better than imagined in some places and cause us concern in others. In other words, in Southern Manchuria and other areas, it seems that even order has been gradually restored, and there are even those who are calmly attending to their work in some parts. However, we cannot definitively know the actual conditions, so it is truly regrettable that we are not at a stage where we can give satisfactory explanations to our citizens who have families in the various areas. When we are there, we will report such through the Diet, and as we receive information, we will report it in an appropriate manner. (applause)
Hm, not the best random sampling, but believe me this is a good thing.
Little-known fact: The word “baka” (idiot) was uttered 173 times in the Imperial Diet’s final year and a half, often (based on a cursory glance at the results) in reference to dangerous left-wing elements such as labor unions. Compare that to the 7 times the word’s been said in the modern-day National Diet in the past 5 years.