Why vis­its to Ya­sukuni are un­ac­cept­able

China Daily (Canada) - - VIEWS -

Thanks to for­eign­ers’ poor knowl­edge of what Ya­sukuni Shrine ac­tu­ally rep­re­sents, the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment has be­come used to de­fend­ing the prac­tice of pay­ing homage to the war dead at the site, which among oth­ers hon­ors 14 Class-A war crim­i­nals ofWorldWar II. The Ja­panese gov­ern­ment claims “to mourn the war dead is com­mon in other parts of the world and thus it is not wrong for Ja­pan to do the same in ac­cor­dance with its tra­di­tion”.

In 2006, then Ja­panese chief Cab­i­net sec­re­tary and cur­rent PrimeMin­is­ter Shinzo Abe ar­gued in his book that, to pay homage to the war dead at the Ya­sukuni Shrine is an ob­ser­vance of one of the coun­try’s tra­di­tional folk cus­toms and not a re­li­gious rit­ual in con­tra­ven­tion of the prin­ci­ple of not mix­ing re­li­gion with pol­i­tics. To le­git­imize Ja­panese politi­cians’ vis­its to the shrine, Abe has also com­pared them to the homage paid by the pres­i­dents of the United States at the Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery in Vir­ginia.

His con­tention is a bla­tant at­tempt to mis­lead world opin­ion.

To un­der­stand what ac­tu­ally the Ya­sukuni Shrine rep­re­sents, it is im­por­tant to know what is Shin­to­ism. Shinto is an ide­ol­ogy that ad­vo­cates ag­gres­sion and ex­pan­sion, and was pro­pounded as the na­tional re­li­gion to counter the spread of Catholi­cism in Ja­pan. The im­pact ofWestern thoughts and the spread of Catholi­cism in Ja­pan in the late 16th cen­tury prompted Toy­otomiHideyoshi to pro­mote Shin­tism as the means to stran­gle Catholi­cism.

Toy­otomi used Shin­to­ism to as­sign Ja­panese “deities” to all things on Earth and pro­mote Ja­pan as the “cen­ter” of Asia to con­front Catholi­cism, which ad­vo­cates uni­ver­sal value. Thus the Shinto re­li­gion be­came a tool to pro­mote the le­git­i­macy of Toy­otomi ’s rule and le­git­imize his ex­pan­sion­ist poli­cies. Us­ing the Shinto ide­ol­ogy, Ja­pan soon launched two all-out but failed at­tacks on the Korean Penin­sula. But de­spite Toy­otomi’s failed mil­i­tary ad­ven­tures, the ex­pan­sion­ist ide­ol­ogy took deep roots in Ja­pan.

Be­liev­ing China’s civ­i­liza­tion based on scholars and of­fi­cials was too weak, the Shinto re­li­gion in Ja­pan’s Edo pe­riod (1603-1868) was re­formed into the Bushido spirit. Af­ter the sign­ing of un­equal treaties with­Western pow­ers dur­ing the late Edo pe­riod, ItoHiro­humi and other key mem­bers of theMeiji Restora­tion (of im­pe­ri­al­ism in Ja­pan) came to be­lieve that Ja­pan’s losses toWestern pow­ers should be made up by the neigh­bor­ing coun­tries.

Dur­ing theMeiji Restora­tion, Shinto’s ex­pan­sion­ist ide­ol­ogy evolved into mil­i­tarism, with Ten­no­ism and the Ya­sukuni Shrine be­com­ing its in­te­gral parts, and turned Ja­pan into a bru­tal mil­i­tary power seek­ing for­eign ex­pan­sion through the use of forces.

Af­terWorldWar II, Ja­pan nei­ther re­flected on, let alone aban­don­ing, the ex­pan­sion­ist ide­ol­ogy. As a re­sult, many even in post­war Ja­pan be­lieve the ide­o­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment that be­gan in the 16th cen­tury was ra­tio­nal. In­ter­na­tion­ally, too, some scholars view Shinto as the core el­e­ment of Ja­panese cul­ture and folk cus­toms, and thus con­clude that Ja­panese tra­di­tions and cul­ture must be re­spected and pro­tected if the US wants to make its global lead­er­ship ac­cept­able to Ja­pan. Such a view has helped pre­serve Shin­to­ism and Ten­no­ism even af­ter Ja­pan’s sur­ren­der to the Al­lied forces that end­edWorldWar II.

Shin­to­ism is not by any means a mod­ern ide­ol­ogy, as some Ja­panese have claimed. In­stead, it is a mil­i­tary ide­ol­ogy coated with a strong re­li­gious color, with Ten­no­ism on one side and the Ya­sukuni Shrine on the other.

The au­thor is a scholar with the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can Stud­ies un­der the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences.

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