Yasukuni Shrine: My Grandfather Died For This Country

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Yasukuni Shrine, located in the centre of Tokyo is undeniably beautiful and rather serene, at least from the outside. Why then, does this place of quiet worship enrage so many in northeast Asia whenever Japanese dignitaries visit the shrine? What is it about Yasukuni that causes South Korea to cancel its foreign minister’s trip to Japan and China to whip yet more shit up about uninhabited rocks in the sea?

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Well, that’s probably down to the alternative history lesson inside the shrine’s museum, and the fact that around a thousand souls (of roughly 2 million in total) enshrined within Yasukuni were executed as war criminals.

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Obviously, the shrine wasn’t originally built as a graveyard for war criminals. It was actually constructed in 1869 to honour those who died during the complicated series of uprisings and civil bloodshed known to history as the Boshin War (thankfully, Hollywood simplified the whole rotten affair in Tom Cruise’s seminal film, The Last Samurai). Ever since then Yasukuni Shrine has been used – in its own words – “to commemorated those who dedicated their precious lives to their mother country.”

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I have to admit; before scooting off to Tokyo last week, I thought the controversy boiled down to nothing more than northeast Asia’s lingering animosity towards Japan, and the region’s general xenophobia. I assumed I’d go there and type a piece on how revering war criminals is, of course, bang out of order, yet most national heroes are complete arseholes drenched in the blood of innocents.

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As I expected, the grounds at Yasukuni were peacefully theatrical. The huge iron gates that lead up to the shrine are particularly impressive. I overheard a Korean camera crew filming the shrine and wondered how impartial that report was likely to be. People were praying silently and my blissful ignorance left me quite at ease. It was when I walked into the museum however that I began to see where the controversy surrounding Yasukuni stems from.

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The museum is wildly patriotic. It starts off by displaying all the awesome samurai gear you’d expect, but then leaps to the late 19th / early 20th century describing the start of Japan’s overseas Empire. One display shows the western superpowers encircling Japan implying that empire was forced upon it, which to be honest, is pretty much true. However all the descriptions of what lead up to the East Asia War (as WW2 in called in Japan), the annexation of Korea, the creation of Manchuria, the seizing of Hong Kong & Singapore, the bombing of Pearl Harbour etc. are all incredibly vague. Of course, not a word is mentioned of the calamity at Nanking. The most delusional display in the whole museum was a map of Asia that had on it the dates, flags and portraits of all the independence leaders in the region. Under the map was this quote:

“In the early stages of the East Asia War, Japan’s victories inspired the rest of Asia to gain independence from the western superpowers.”

I wondered what people from Korea, Manchuria, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia etc. would think of that statement? Had they not tried to overthrow their oppressors before? Or could they only do that once Japan had showed them how? What about the Boxer rebellion, the annexation of Korea or the puppet state of Manchukuo?

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After taking a good long gander at a kamikaze plane, imagining the horrors of the pilot and its target, I had to get out of that crazy place.

Post Script:

I feel bad for singling out Japan here. I hope this article does not seem like an attack on Japan, its people, or even its history. I hope that readers, especially in China or Korea, do not see this as ammunition for their own nationalism. I love China, Korea and Japan equally. Yet I can’t stand the animosity they show towards each other. Of course most people in northeast Asia have put all of this behind them.

And oh yeah, my country (England) is just as shitty and hate filled too. I agree with these guys.

Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons

Bertrand Russell

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it

George Bernard Shaw

If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country

E.M Forster

A note from the Editor-in-Chimp: This article was originally published here on Asia Pundits. Do me a favour and read it there too! 

4 Comments

  • I loved your article; permit me to say this, and please consider it whole-heartedly;

    Japan did its terrible things (as all “great powers” have, in a period wherein every citizen–correction, SUBJECT–of its “God Emperor”, was cognitively, spiritually, intellectually, and experientially unaware of the hitherto completely unknown concepts of democracy, egalitarianism, and individualism, whilst Korea and China, were just as maniacally chauvinist, had slaves, and tiered and classed societies of non-democratic methods of conquer.

    Having lived in Korea fifteen years and gotten to know her people and Chinese and Japanese people intimately–I can confidently say democracy is still not in their blood by any stretch of the imagination.

    Contrast this knowledge with what we know about post-war western countries, which still lie and deceive to conquer, with weaponry reminiscent of that found in a George Lucas movie, torture, and morality-defying skill and abandon.

    And we invented the enlightenment, the Magna Carta, The Declaration of independence, The Bill of Rights, and The UN Charter. But Americans even instigated “Pearl Harbor”, and that was neither the beginning, nor the end of western treachery.

    The sadness and pain I feel for the victims of all war is deep, and that extends to the people of Asia murdered in the name of empire, Western or Eastern–but I will never be drawn into the racism that is of the particularly Chinese and Korean variety–disguised as sadness.

    The Chinese have an appalingly brutal government, and the Koreans, who hide an inner inculcation and fascination with totalitarian ideology were hired to be murders in Vietnam.

    I love all people, and so will never be fooled by xenophobic groups of them, especially groups that will not recognize the multitudinous and formal apologies of a now monumentally peaceful nation like Japan, who paid for their transgression with the death and destruction of the fire-bombing of sixty of their cities and with the detonation of two unnecessary and racist world displays of nuclear holocaust.

    Good article, Mate!

    Peace, Love, Joy, and Enlightened Imagination,

    Carl Carroll Atteniese
    http://carlatteniese.org

  • I loved your article; permit me to say this, and please consider it wholeheartedly;

    Japan did its terrible things (as all “great powers” have), in a period wherein every citizen–correction, SUBJECT–of its “God Emperor”, was cognitively, spiritually, intellectually, and experientially unaware of the hitherto completely unknown concepts of democracy, egalitarianism, and individualism, whilst Korea and China, were just as maniacally chauvinist, had slaves, and tiered and classed societies of non-democratic methods of conquer.

    Having lived in Korea fifteen years and gotten to know her people and Chinese and Japanese people intimately–I can confidently say democracy is still not in their blood by any stretch of the imagination.

    Contrast this knowledge with what we know about post-war western countries, which still lie and deceive to conquer, with weaponry reminiscent of that found in a George Lucas movie, torture, and morality-defying skill and abandon.

    And we invented the enlightenment, the Magna Carta, The Declaration of independence, The Bill of Rights, and The UN Charter. But Americans even instigated “Pearl Harbor”, and that was neither the beginning, nor the end of western treachery.

    The sadness and pain I feel for the victims of all war is deep, and that extends to the people of Asia murdered in the name of empire, Western or Eastern–but I will never be drawn into the “racism” that is of the particularly Chinese and Korean variety–disguised as sadness.

    The Chinese have an appalingly brutal government, and the Koreans, who hide an inner inculcation and fascination with totalitarian ideology were hired to be murders in Vietnam.

    The Koreans and Chinese use the spiritual and political-appeasement visits of Japanese presidents to Yaskuni as a bully-pulpit. If democracy means anything, it means we can practice spirituality as we please, and as your eloquent article points out, there are some two million souls honored at Yaskuni, with some one thousand of them having been labeled war criminals. We are all criminals in war, and certainly the common infantry man, pilot, and sailor–as brutal as many of them might have been in the Japanese ranks–in the madness and terror of war–is not as culpable as the architects of conquer. Surely we would not want the people of the nations we conquered (or tried to), telling our presidents that they could not visit cemeteries to pray, meditate, entrust, honor, or simply shed a tear for those of our people lost to the tragedy of war. It is enormously foolish, cold-hearted, and even stupid that China and Korea and other Asian nations allow their political time to be wasted on an issue that serves only to divide–unless, as I suspect of these cultures that never really showed me they understand forgiveness–they are using the issue the same way North Korea uses perceived infractions to saber rattle.

    I love all people, and so will never be fooled by xenophobic groups of them, especially groups that will not recognize the multitudinous and formal apologies of a now monumentally peaceful nation like Japan, who paid for her transgression with the death and destruction of the fire-bombing of sixty of her cities and with the detonation of two unnecessary and “racist” world displays of nuclear holocaust. She apologised over fifty times for her wartime past, formally–year after year–since 1946, but the Koreans (and Chinese?) often told me she hadn’t. Why do they lie?

    Good article, Mate!

    Peace, Love, Joy, and Enlightened Imagination,

    Carl Carroll Atteniese
    http://carlatteniese.org

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