Yasukuni glorifies Japan’s inglorious past
In the field of diplomacy, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could be better described as “Downturn Abe”. His visit to the Yasukuni Shrine is a calculated rebuff to those in Japan who seek better diplomatic relations and warms the hearts of those who want Japan to be a major military power and jettison any constitutional restraints preventing this.
The Yasukuni Shrine does not serve the same purpose as Arlington National Cemetery in the United States, or the Cenotaph in the United Kingdom. No bodies are buried at Yasukuni Shrine. Japan’s head of state refuses to visit. Indeed, no emperor has set foot inside the shrine since 1975, three years before the souls of war criminals were interred there by Shinto priests. News of the enshrinement was kept quiet for months.
The late emperor Hirohito refused to go there after convicted war criminals, seven of whom were hanged, were secretly enshrined in 1978, joining about 2.5 million other Japanese who died in battle in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Hirohito had paid his respects at Yasukuni eight times after the war but made his final visit in 1975 by which time, according to palace documents, he became disillusioned with the way the shrine was being managed and what it was trying to represent.
His son, Emperor Akihito, has never visited.
Japan does have a national cemetery, with the remains of the war dead, in Chidorigafuchi, just up the road from Yasukuni. Few politicians visit.
Yasukuni has a specific role: It pays homage to, and celebrates, unapologetic militarism. This piece of Tokyo real estate, close to the Imperial Palace, with its broad avenue lined by cherry blossom trees, is considered holy ground by extreme nationalists.
It is a shrine dedicated to glorifying war, empire and unrepentant militarism.
It is a privately run shrine that enjoys the close patronage of the Japan Association of War Bereaved. The association has, and continues to enjoy, close ties to the governing Liberal Democratic Party.
The Yushukan museum, attached to the shrine, is a land of make-believe for militarists. It claims that Japan was forced into war by the US, and that Tokyo waged an honorable campaign to free Asia from white European colonialism. This time frame, conveniently, leaves out the rapacious behavior of Japanese troops in China before Pearl Harbor.
A Zero fighter aircraft greets visitors at the museum’s entrance. No mention is made of the Nanjing Massacre or the razing of Manila. A giant mural depicts the Battle of Tokyo Bay. No battle ever took place.
During World War II, a ballad popular with Japanese troops heading off to fight had the following refrain: “You and I are cherry blossoms of the same year. Even if we’re far apart when our petals fall, we’ll bloom again in the treetops of Yasukuni Shrine.”
Abe is nurturing the roots of those cherry blossom trees. The author is a senior copy editor of China Daily.