Why End Shintoism in Japan after WWII?

By | December 14, 2019

[December 14, 2019]  The Japanese surrendered unconditionally on September 2, 1945, onboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.  Part of the plan for Japan after World War II was to end its military adventurism.  To do so would not be an easy task.  U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur, as the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers in the Pacific, believed one of the solutions would be to end state-sponsorship of Shintoism in Japan.

MacArthur proposed a two-part plan.  First, Japan was required to demobilize all of its armed forces and return all troops from aboard.  Japan, as a developing nation since the early 20th century, had a history of foreign intervention, and a military-dominated political structure.  This had to end.

Second, Shintoism was seen by the Allies as an impediment to the economic and political reforms the Allies had devised for Japan’s future.  Ending Shintoism as Japan’s nationally-supported religion was an early step.  Allied leadership believed that democratic reforms and a constitutional government could not be implemented as long as the people of Japan looked upon their emperor as their ultimate authority.

Emperor Hirohito was required to renounce his divine status.  His powers were radically reduced and eventually served mostly as a figurehead.  Compulsory courses on Shinto ethics, mandated by the government up to this point, were eliminated as part of a more extensive decentralization of all power.  The Shinto Directive was issued on this date, December 14, 1945, to abolish state support for the Shinto religion.1  The directive encompasses the ideas of freedom of religion and separation of church and state.

There is little doubt that these two proposals, eventually implemented vigorously, had a positive impact on the country of Japan and its social and economic recovery.  Many today question whether the ban on state support of Shintoism is necessary.  Unsurprisingly, Shinto remains one of the most popular religions in Japan.  And, some want to restore Shinto as a state religion.2

The two-part solution devised by General MacArthur and his staff was what was needed at the time.  Planning, implementation, and execution of the Shinto Directive were stressful and met with many complaints.  This is where dedicated and experienced staffing, along with strong leadership, comes in handy.   Ending Shinto’s state support within the context of post-WWII Japan is a valuable lesson for any leader.


  1. December 15, 1945, in Japan.
  2. Shintoism was seen as social propaganda and was used as a tool of ultra-nationalism and a disguise for militarism. Three specific Shinto doctrines were banned.  The Emperor is superior to other rulers.  2.  The Japanese people are inherently superior to other peoples.  3. That Japanese islands are spiritually superior to other lands.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinto_Directive
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “Why End Shintoism in Japan after WWII?

  1. Bryan Lee

    Very interesting article. There are some things we can learn from this but perhaps not what everyone would immediately think. I believe the key lesson here is that religion can be and is often used by nefarious political figures to justify evil deeds.

    1. Gil Johnson

      Good point, Bryan. This is a common problem all thru our history.

  2. Valkerie

    Good history lesson, General Satterfield. Thanks. We all can learn from this. And, thanks to those in this leadership forum who pointed out China and other places that have used religion to control people.

  3. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Having a good plan and implementing that plan is not easy. Good point, Gen. Satterfield, about this issue. Thanks for another spot-on article. We can learn a lot from history and that is why I find it interesting. I teach it in High School and what is hard, is getting the students interested.

  4. Delf "Jelly" Bryce

    You can stamp out a government (like we did after WW2 in Japan) but you can’t stamp out a religion.

    1. Nick Lighthouse

      Yes, “Jelly” and good to hear from you again. Here is why state-sponsored religion or where the state should not interfere with life. China and its gulags are a classic example. Typical communist!
      AP Exclusive: China tightens up on info after Xinjiang leaks

      1. old warrior

        And the West is doing nothing about this enslavement. In fact, some of our liberal, Democrat politicians are supportive of China’s gulags. You see, they are not really gulags but just job training centers. Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha …..

  5. Kenny Foster

    If you want to see what happens when large and powerful governments support and sponsor (two different things) a specific religion over others, just look at Islam. The teachings of Islam can be debated (and perhaps that’s a good thing) but one thing we do know is that the political structure is willing to pass laws and punish those who do not belong to the official religion. Now look at the Middle East and how well those countries have done in the last 100 years.

    1. Greg Heyman

      Kenny, you are correct and this should be a valuable lesson for political leaders. They should not be overly supportive of or degenerative to religion (unless there is a gross perversion of it that is violent).

  6. Tom Bushmaster

    The end of “official” Shintoism! Or, as you put it later in the article, the end of “state-sponsored” Shintoism. This was necessary because, as a religion, it had been used to justify the “superiority” of the Japanese race over other races. Not that unlike Hitler and Nazi Germany. Interestingly, enough however, is that Communism has been far more destructive if measured in lives lost.

    1. Max Foster

      Any state-sponsored religion should be immediately suspect. Just like in the Church of England or in Islam in Iran, Iraq, etc., those ‘religions’ are much more. Usually they are there to justify whatever the political structure wants. That is why the Vatican was criticized for not objecting to the rise of Fascism in Italy.

      1. Doc Blackshear

        And that is why we are supposed to have leaders with experience and commonsense. Today, that proposition of commonsense politicians is suspect.

    2. Harry Donner

      We still see this. In America you don’t find the federal govt supporting religion. The political structure’s main effort is to get out of the way. When they touch religion, something is bound to go wrong.

        1. JT Patterson

          Yes, Yusaf, maybe you should run for political office on this kind of platform.

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