Right. I said I’d talk about Yasukuni Shrine.

Tokyo Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni was built by imperial decree in 1869, to honor/enshrine those who died in the short civil war of the year before which had ended the Shogunate and restored direct imperial rule (the Meiji Restoration). It later became the shrine for all those who died in service of the nation.

Today, whenever a Japanese prime minister visits Yasukuni, protests arise throughout east and southeast Asia, particularly in Korea and China. But what’s the big deal? A nation should be able to honor its fallen soldiers, right? The US, for example, has Arlington National Cemetery and numerous war-related monuments, after all.

Part of the outrage comes from the fact that Class A war criminals are included among the enshrined. They weren’t included initially, since they hadn’t died in action, but when the government put them on the registry of war dead so that their families could receive pensions, Yasukuni used this as grounds to enshrine them. In and of itself, that’s still defensible, however the war criminals were enshrined as “Martyrs of Showa” (Showa being the name of Emperor Hirohito’s reign).

So the real issue isn’t that war criminals are enshrined at Yasukuni, but that the shrine is saying that they were in the right. This leads to the other source of controversy: Yasukuni’s war museum.

In addition to displaying letters, pictures, and personal affects of soldiers, the museum covers Japan’s military history, focusing on the modern era, from the Meiji Restoration to World War II. It presents Japan’s military actions of this period as a matter of defending itself and the rest of Asia from Western aggression. Korea was annexed for its own good and the invasion of China was somehow inevitable.

This is from Yasukuni Shrine’s official website [edit: the website has been overhauled and this rant no longer appears there]:

The text books used in history instruction at intermediate schools from the 1997 school year will contain material on the subject of comfort women. The textbooks depict as a historical fact the story of Asian women who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese Army. Imparting this story to students who are still young and immature has become a great problem since last year. This matter is drawn upon the judgment professed by the Military Tribunal for the Far East that Japan fought a war of aggression. Can we say that this view is correct? [. . .] We cannot help but feel that the possibility of ulterior motives have not been discounted. Isn’t it a fact that the West with its military power invaded and ruled over much of Asia and Africa and that this was the start of East-West relations? There is no uncertainty in history. Japan’s dream of building a Great East Asia was necessitated by history and it was sought after by the countries of Asia. We cannot overlook the intent of those who wish to tarnish the good name of the noble souls of Yasukuni.


Meanwhile, after the “Martyrs of Showa” were enshrined there hasn’t been a single imperial visit to Yasukuni. That’s gotta sting.

And that’s the basic background.


This has nothing to do with anything, but here’s another picture from Nikkō.

Nikkou Toushou-guu Lantern

This huge lantern in Tōshō-gū is decorated with baku, mythical creatures that eat bad dreams.



So what’s the deal with Yasukuni Shrine being so nationalistic when the Emperor himself is much more moderate? Basically, Yasukuni retains the State Shinto ideology.

State Shinto’s creation following the Meiji Restoration involved sharply separating Shinto from Buddhism, organizing the nation’s shrines into an ordered hierarchy, and shaping the varied and amorphous beliefs and practices of Shinto into a national religion centered around emperor worship and serving the empire. State Shinto was abolished after the war and old shrines at least partly reverted to their traditional identities, but aside from the removal of emperor worship, Yasukuni’s identity pretty much is State Shinto.

Also, the shrine’s de facto lay organization, the Izokukai, is very nationalistic. The Izokukai represents the families of soldiers who died in World War II. It began with the purpose of looking after widows and orphans, but has become increasingly right-wing. From Wikipedia, this is the Izokukai’s original mission statement:

With a view to pursuing the end of warfare, establishing global peace and world prosperity and contributing to the welfare of humanity, we seek to provide relief and assistance to the families of those who died in the War.

And this is their current mission statement:

In pursuit of the establishment of a peaceful Japan, the cultivation of character, and the promotion of morality, we seek to praise eirei [“heroic spirits,” i.e. the kami of soldiers], to promote the welfare of the families of the war dead, and to seek recognition and compensation for civilian auxiliary units.

So goals of world peace are dropped and instead they talk about morals and praising eirei. And that’s the sort of thing you hear from the people who demand that Japanese textbooks teach students patriotism and not “fabrications” like comfort women, the Nanking Massacre, and so on.


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3 Responses to “Yasukuni”

  1. Nicole Says:

    “there is no uncertainty in history”, eh? perspective, point of view, doesn’t exist, I guess…actually, probably one could say that there are more wrongs than rights here (yes the West invaded and ruled – but so did Japan). so who writes the shrine’s view, since apparently the imperial end isn’t endorsing it?

  2. kevinjames Says:

    I started to write a response here, but it’s getting a bit long, so I’ll add it to the body of the post.

  3. Nicole Says:

    thanks for the addendum, Kevin – that was very informative and a great history lesson summarized well.

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