I’ve been reading up on Japanese pre-war ideology and its postwar permutations for my thesis for quite some time now, so I’m always interested in new approaches to explain the workings of kokutai thought. Here is is a fascinating excerpt from a new book by Michael E. Robinson on 20th century Korean history, via ‘Far Outliers’: North Korean Ideology: Juche as Kokutai. The most interesting part reads as follows:
Some speculate that Kim Il Sung developed the idea in reaction to the vague and virtually indefinable concept of kokutai (kukch’e in Korean) used to evoke “national essence” in Japanese ideology before 1945. All North Koreans are enjoined to hold Chuch’e in their minds and hearts, as only in so doing will their actions be appropriate. Since Chuch’e is the leader’s core inspiration, all his subjects carry the leader in their hearts when they hold fast a consciousness of Chuch’e. Just as the emperor embodied the essence (kokutai) of the nation in pre-World War II Japan, so does the leader, now Kim Jong Il, embody the very essential principle that guides all thought and action in North Korea today.
Unfortunately, the excerpt doesn’t give any sources, so I’ll have to order the book to find out just what this theory is based on. Of course, the idea of Kim Il Sung (who is usually celebrated as an anti-Japanese partisan by North Korea’s massive propaganda industry) borrowing his one contribution to Marxist theory from militaristic Japan is deeply ironic. But setting aside the question of whether Juche really does have historical roots in Kokutai, the personality cult so pervasive in North Korean society certainly does bear some similarities to the emperor system of Meiji Japan. Most political scientists explain the North Korean regime as a form of Totalitarianism rooted in the Stalinist tradition, but perhaps they should have a look at those old Mitogaku pamphlets first?