December 15

This Day in History

World War II

Dec 15, 1945:

MacArthur orders end of Shinto as Japanese state religion

On this day, General Douglas MacArthur, in his capacity as Supreme Commander of Allied Powers in the Pacific, brings an end to Shintoism as Japan's established religion. The Shinto system included the belief that the emperor, in this case Hirohito, was divine.

On September 2, 1945 aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, MacArthur signed the instrument of Japanese surrender on behalf of the victorious Allies. Before the economic and political reforms the Allies devised for Japan's future could be enacted, however, the country had to be demilitarized. Step one in the plan to reform Japan entailed the demobilization of Japan's armed forces, and the return of all troops from abroad. Japan had had a long history of its foreign policy being dominated by the military, as evidenced by Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye's failed attempts to reform his government and being virtually pushed out of power by career army officer Hideki Tojo.

Step two was the dismantling of Shintoism as the Japanese national religion. Allied powers believed that serious democratic reforms, and a constitutional form of government, could not be put into place as long as the Japanese people looked to an emperor as their ultimate authority. Hirohito was forced to renounce his divine status, and his powers were severely limited—he was reduced to little more than a figurehead. And not merely religion, but even compulsory courses on ethics—the power to influence the Japanese population's traditional religious and moral duties—were wrenched from state control as part of a larger decentralization of all power.

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