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50 Conservative Politicians Visit Yasukuni Shrine

50 Conservative Politicians Visit Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine

More than 50 members of Japan’s conservative opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party, including leader Sadakazu Tanigaki and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, visited Yasukuni Shrine Monday.

The August 15 visit marks the 66th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, and by coincidence is the beginning of the Obon, a Buddhist festival that honors the souls of ancestors (although Obon is celebrated a month earlier in the Kanto region, where Tokyo and the Yasukuni Shrine are located).

Yasukuni Shrine was built in 1869 at the end of the Boshin War, which restored the Meiji Emperor to power after nearly 800 years of military dictatorships. The shrine honors 2,466,532 soldiers, including colonial Korean and Taiwanese soldiers, who died in 13 of Japan’s wars (although the vast majority of the souls enshrined at Yasukuni are from World War II). Japanese politicians have always visited the shrine to pray for the souls of Japan’s war dead. Problems began in 1978 after the souls of 14 class-A war criminals were enshrined at Yasukuni. The shrine also houses the souls of 1,068 class-B and C war criminals. Japan’s neighbors–particularly China, North Korea and South Korea–view visits from Japan’s leaders to the shrine as glorifying the militaristic past of their country, which has been slow to acknowledge its wartime crimes against humanity.

I have mixed feelings about Japan’s leaders visiting the shrine. On one hand, politicians have the right to honor their country’s war dead, just as American politicians visit Arlington National Cemetery. One could point out that visiting the shrine is a violation of the separation of church and state. But don’t American presidents place their hand on the Bible when they are sworn into office? On the other hand, I suspect these conservative politicians visit the shrine not despite the fact that it infuriates their neighbors, but because it infuriates them. Or at least because it satisfies Japan’s own right-wing nationalists.

Most Japanese view themselves as the victims of World War II, not as the aggressors. The average Japanese person is ignorant of World War II-era atrocities, and there is no shortage of people who think World War II began when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and ended when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. The official cause of the war was that Japan was liberating its East Asian neighbors from their Western overlords and that the U.S., knowing its own imperialistic interests in East Asia were threatened by this humanitarian mission, prodded Japan into war by cutting off resources to their poor country. It doesn’t seem to matter that their East Asian neighbors have much more bitter memories of the few years of Japanese imperialism than of the centuries of Western colonialism. You’d be hard pressed to find a book in Japanese about the country’s war crimes, which include mass killings, human experimentation, biological warfare, use of chemical weapons, torture of prisoners of war, cannibalism, slave labor, sex slavery, looting. Therefore most Japanese don’t understand why this is a source of resentment from its neighbors, and assume that the Chinese and Koreans only want an official apology because they’re actually seeking monetary reparations due to their countries’ poor economies. Most Japanese certainly don’t think (perhaps correctly) that another country has the right to tell Japanese leaders where they can or can’t pray.

In 2005, one LDP politician suggested Yasukuni Shrine remove the souls of the 14 class-A war criminals, but the priests refused the request, citing separation of church and state.

LDP politicians can always do as Democratic Party of Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his cabinet did Monday: Visit a non-controversial shrine that honors Japan’s war dead that is not associated with Yasukuni.



Dustin Dye

Dustin Dye is the author of the YAKUZA DYNASTY series, available through the Amazon Kindle.

He lived in Okayama, Japan, where he taught English at a junior high school through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program for three years. He is a graduate from the University of Kansas, where he received a bachelor's degree in anthropology.

His interest in Japan began in elementary school after seeing Godzilla fight Ghidorah, the three-headed monster. But it wasn't until he discovered Akira Kurosawa's films through their spaghetti Western remakes that he truly became fascinated in the people and culture of Japan.

He lives in Kansas with his wife, daughter and guinea pig.

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E-mail him: [email protected]