Transcendentalism refers to a philosophy in which individuals stand firm in their position detachedly (nonchalantly) without being influenced by the state of things that surround them. In Japan, in general, transcendentalism is often referred to a political position taken by the government consisting of han (domain) cliques and bureaucrats during the period between the establishment of the Imperial Diet followed by the issuance of Constitution of the Empire of Japan and the beginning of the Taisho period. It is understood that the theory insists that the government should behave without being restricted by the opinions of the Diet or political parties (there are different theories, too). The administration that follows this philosophy is called a transcendentalist administration.
Some senior high schools under the education system that existed until 1950, such as the Dai Yon (Fourth) Senior High School, claimed to be 'transcendentalist' schools.
Schools being transcendentalist had no relation to the parliamentary politics; their transcendentalism was close to what it originally meant, as represented in the phrase 'Eiga no Chimata Hikku Mite (looking down on the flourishing lower world)' of a dorm song of Dai Ichi (First) High School (of the old-education-system) called 'Aa Gyokuhai.'
Transcendentalism was announced for the first time by Kiyotaka KURODA, the second prime minister of Japan, on February 12, 1889, which was the day following the issuance of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, in his speech shown below (so-called transcendentalist speech) addressed to local officials at the luncheon (lunch party) held at the Rokumeikan building.
On the next day, Hirobumi ITO, who led drafting of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, made a similar announcement.
Other members who were involved in drafting of the Constitution, namely Kowashi INOUE, Miyoji ITO, and Kentaro KANEKO, were critical of transcendentalism. Kuroda and Ito claimed that 'Otto von Bismarck-style autocracy should be applied to our nation' and that the Minister of State should not be responsible for the Diet. They, however, cited the phrase 'the voice of the people is the voice of God' from "Odyssea" by Homer, 'I try to understand the citizen's mind to make it into mine' from Emperor Yu's anecdote, and 'broad-based assemblies should be held and all critical issues settled by public debate' from the Five-Article Imperial Oath by Emperor Meiji to make the statements below.
It said that 'there's no reason for the emperor to give his confidence to the cabinet that is not responsible for the public, thus the ministers of the state should be responsible for the public through the parliament, even though, in theory, it is the emperor for whom they are responsible', and 'if you say that you should not resign as long as you are trusted by the emperor, even though you have lost the confidence of the parliament, and have never consulted with the general public, it means that you injure the great emperor, who takes the voice from the people as the one from the god, identifying himself with the public, and betray the divine tenor that had stated the broad-based assemblies should be held and all critical issues settled by public debate.'
Vulnerability of Transcendentalism
When the Imperial Diet actually met, the opposition force called 'minto' (political parties opposing the han-based administration) that was in favor of Jiyu Minken Undo (Movement for Liberty and People's Rights) showed strong resistance. Debates at the Diet slowed down and the citizens protested because: the Kuroda administration failed to break the minto apart and revised the treaty; the first Yamagata administration had their budget approved by bribing the minto; and the first Matsukata administration interfered with the election.
After all, the Constitution of the Empire of Japan was never designed to be aligned with transcendentalism. For example, according to Article 71 of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, if the (original) budget plan was not approved before a fiscal year started, the budget of the previous fiscal year would be adopted as the budget for the next fiscal year. This article was drafted by Kowashi INOUE in order to prevent the administration from having to compromise on political policies in order to have the budget plan approved at the Diet. What this really meant was that, if the budget of the previous fiscal year was adopted to the new fiscal year, the Japanese government could not carry out the urgent tasks such as promotion of growth of new industry and implementation of new businesses to increase wealth and military power. For this reason, the government was pressured by the authorities or the military that needed to obtain budget for new political plans, and therefore, had to have the budget plan approved even if they had to bribe the minto with government positions or money. In the meantime, some of the members of the Onwa faction (called Rito) that had been believed to be pro-government political force became strongly nationalistic and started to have conflicts with the government.
Observing this situation, Hirobumi ITO changed his mind. He started to think of forming a new political party that would lead a modern nation that he wished to create instead of supporting transcendentalism and continuing to have a conflict with the Diet. In 1900, he established the Rikken Seiyukai party to start denying transcendentalism within the government.
In the Kizokuin (the House of Peers), the two major factions, the study group led by Keigo KIYOURA, who was the close associate of Yamagata, and the Sawakai led by Tosuke HIRATA, continued to believe in transcendentalism and tried to eliminate party politics. Then, the Kiyoura administration established in 1924, formed a transcendentalist administration in which the Kizokuin members occupied the government except for the Prime Minister (former chairman of the Privy Council), the Minister of Foreign Affairs (diplomat), the Minister of the Army, and the Minister of the Navy (military officers at that time) (It should be noted that the lower-house general election was close and the government was therefore also acting as an election administrator). This administration however antagonized not only political parties such as Rikken Seiyukai but also the general public, and was overthrown in the second constitution protection movement. There was no room for transcendentalism to continue its existence since it became obsolete during Taisho Democracy.