Andrew K. Hanami
Two opposing images seem to capture the imagination of those who describe the military in contemporary Japanese society: the pacifist nation that has grown to global economic preeminence and the vision of a growing or resurgent militarism. For four decades Japan has not had a high-profile military, yet the feeling has persisted that beneath Japan's pacifist shell lay the substance of a military figure in waiting. In reality the Japanese military is catching up in the 1980s and 1990s with the West, just as Japan's economy was catching up in the 1950s and 1960s. How large the Japanese military will grow is in part a function of the pressures, constraints, and opportunities that it faces. There are, however, structural limits beyond which it cannot grow. Both past traditions and contemporary forces have seemed to alternately enlarge and contract the military.
The rise of the military class in Japan took place a millennium after the establishment of the imperial system. The Fujiwara family, a culture-oriented, nonmilitary clan governed the country for five centuries on behalf of the emperor, emphasizing scholarship, religion, and the arts. With the ascendance of powerful Shinto and Buddhist religious sects, large private armies were raised to protect and promote the interests of the religious groups. Emperors had great difficulty controlling them, and they frequently massed outside the Kyoto palace walls and attempted to intimidate the emperor.
By the twelfth century the most powerful of the private armies came to be headed by a new leader known as the shogun, or "generalissimo." The militarily dominant shogun set up his headquarters in Tokyo and thereafter ruled in the name of the emperor, drawing from the throne's legitimacy and thus eliminating the need to depose him. This arrangement preserved the imperial system.