Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Won't Miss #504 - the Yasukuni flap

Yasukuni shrine is one of the few places in Japan that openly acknowledges that Japanese actually fought in the war (as opposed to simply being unwitting victims who got nuked for reasons that continue to mystify them). It enshrines the souls of soldiers, generals, and others who took part in all aspects of the fight. Unfortunately, some of those enshrined there were determined to be war criminals by the rest of the world and that is where the flap comes in. Being enshrined there gives those whose spirits are there a "get out of hell free" card and allows them to rest in peace. The situation at Yasukuni  itself doesn't really change any present reality, nor does it necessarily deny the past. War is not a personal thing. Death is. The families of those who died deserve to feel that their ancestors' spirits rest as peacefully as the families of those on the other side. But, that's just my opinion. I don't see the actual shrine as being anything other than a place designed to heal personal wounds in the aftermath of a terrible war.*

Unfortunately, the fact that prominent politicians have (and likely will) continue to make a pilgrimage to Yasukuni on New Year's makes the situation very political rather than personal. Koreans and Chinese in particular see any Prime Minister or high ranking official who goes there as essentially thumbing his nose at Japan's Asian neighbors. Personally, I feel that it's just a way of pandering to political extremists. If it pisses off Korea and China, well, that's just gravy in the quest to get the right-wingers to rub their hands together with spiteful glee. 

I don't miss the annual brouhaha over Yasukuni, whether it be the flurry of critical comments when prominent politicians actually visit it or the "will he or won't he" articles on whether or not the visit will actually occur. I don't think it was ever intended to play the part of a villainous place, and that the intention was never to be a point of contention with Japan's former adversaries.

*I'm not interested in playing a game of "who was worse" in World War II. Comments to that effect will not be replied to because I don't think anyone knows the depth and sophistication that went into the start of the war, let alone any of the actions that followed. If you want to go fight about this with someone, this is not the right place. 


  1. Has a prime minister NOT visited the shrine before? Or does speculators wonder if the prime minister will just stop visiting because it stirs the pot?

  2. If I understand your question correctly (I have a way of getting these things wrong ;-) ), the answer is that some did not. Kan and Fukuda did not visit. Abe did not visit during his time as Prime Minister (though he did so before taking office). I think there may be others, but the way in which they do or do not visit always smacks heavily of political opportunism in the way it plays out in the press.

    So, the speculators have some basis for their "will he or won't he" talk. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't. However, when they don't, it's usually the case that some other politician does so to make an appearance (or to make political hay).

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. I think more important than PMs, Hirohito stopped visiting the shrine and Akihito has never visited the shrine since becoming Emperor and has said he never will, specifically because of the war criminals enshrined there. That certainly is a strong statement that shows awareness of the perceived ramifications of the visits among people from important people.

    Ultimately it just comes down to politics though. It's simply a litmus test to show how much you align yourself with the right-wingers. Visit and you show you want to be on their side, refuse to visit and you set yourself up against them (in their mind at least).

  4. Good points about the emperors, though I honestly feel that China and Korea are always going to see who goes rather than recognize who doesn't.

    And, clearly, I agree about it coming down to politics. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Hello, I think I'm missing something. Is a visit from the Prime Minister taken as approval of the war crimes committed by the enshrined? Is that what makes their visit controversial and offensive to Japan's neighboring countries?

    1. I can't speak for the unhappy people in China and Korea (who are the ones who are most upset), but it does seem that it is seen as approval of, at least, the pardoning of such people. I think that they are unhappy that Yasukuni enshrines those involved in the war and making a pilgrimage there (instead of, say, Meiji, which is not controversial) is seen as paying homage to war criminals.

      That's speculation on my part. All I know if that, if you do a search on "Yasukuni", "New Year", and "Prime Minister", you'll get a lot of articles talking about this flap because it comes up every year.

  6. Another quick comment:

    Unfortunately, I think at this point I feel like the entire situation is just terrible for everyone and there is no easy answer. China and Korea both have legitimate reasons to look back at what Japan did to both during WW2 and be angry...but really, it seems clear that nothing ever will soothe that anger, which is a bit ridiculous.

    Prominent Japanese politicians and both emperors have apologized umpteen times over the years and we're at the point where almost everyone alive at the time is dead, certainly everyone alive who had any sort of role in WW2. Yes, there are plenty of crazy right-wing rabble-rousers in Japan who gleefully stir the pot, but those exist in every country and in a free country you simply can't stop them from saying horrible things. There is honestly nothing more Japan can or, in my opinion, should be obligated to do at this point. The past is tragic, should never be forgotten, but China and Korea both need to stop letting it get in the way of good relations with Japan. At some point they need to move forward.


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