Ya­sukuni glo­ri­fies Ja­pan’s in­glo­ri­ous past

China Daily (Canada) - - WORLD - TOM CLIF­FORD EX­PAT’S VIEW

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.

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