Shibata Yukinori (Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)
August in Japan is full of opportunities to think about Peace, because of the anniversaries of the dropping of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9) and the end of the war (August 15). The worship of the military war dead during the Second World War at Yasukuni Shrine makes always the top news at this time. And whenever the Japanese Prime Minister makes an official visit to pay his respects to the war dead criminals enthroned there, people of Asian countries once colonized by Japan raise their voices of criticism. On the other hand, there are people who stress that the Japanese military who died during the Second World War are heroes that gave their lives to liberate Asian peoples in the name of justice, and thus Yasukuni is a holy land where they are worshipped. This is my first time to step on the threshold of Yasukuni shrine. I joined a study group of St. Ignatius Church organized by the Melchisedec group and visited the Yushukan museum. Let me introduce it.
We visited the Yasukuni shrine a Sunday hazy afternoon under a heavy heat. Leaving the station of Kudanshita we passed under a 25-meter high Torii (Shrine Gate) and came out in front of the statue of Omura Masujiro. Omura was the founder of the modern Japanese army under the rule of the Meiji government. In the second year of the Meiji rule, when the former Shokon shrine, before Yasukuni, was built Omura who had been a favorite of Emperor Meiji was very busy with the construction. The fact that the founder of the modern Army is at the same time the founder of the Yasukuni shrine shows the character of this shrine.
The day before (16 July) they had celebrated the Bon Festival for the dead and in the precinct of the shrine there were offerings of yellow lanterns hanging down that had been left by the faithful and the relatives of the war dead. Inside the shrine religious ceremonies attended by many participants were performed, and senior citizens were kneeling on newspapers spread over the stone stairs. No matter the heat, we could see groups of men seemingly of rightist organizations that paid their highest respect.


But no matter that fact, the great majority of people were groups of families, friends and couples or tourists from the countryside that were taking pictures with the cameras attached to their mobile phones.
"We cannot forget"
The "Yushukan" is a museum founded in 1882 at the Yasukuni shrine that was rebuilt in 1932 and afterwards underwent a complete renovation in 2002. It fills a space of about 11,000 square meters (a baseball field) and enjoys an average of 700 visitors a day. At the entrance hall a Zero fighter aircraft and a big cannon are displayed and a bomber, a human torpedo and a tank are exhibited in the last back room, so that the whole exhibition is true to its name of being called "the oldest Japanese Military Museum."
Going through an automatic gate one goes to the 2nd floor where a 50 minute documentary film, called "We cannot forget: With pride and thanksgiving prayer," is shown to the visitors. "Japan Conference," a conservative think tank comforting the spirits of war heroes produced that film. Many of its members come from the political and business world and support the revision of the Constitution and the reinforcement of the self-defense forces, and as I mentioned at the beginning, they consider the Second World War, that is for them the "Greater East Asian War", a holy war for the liberation of Asian peoples and thus, based on such historical premises, look for a renewal of Japan's history education.
The aim of the documentary is clear. Right after the Meiji Restoration, Japan fought against the Western colonial powers to liberate Asia from their rule. The Second World War was supposed to provide the last finishing touch, but unluckily Japan was defeated. The result was that the Japanese forgot their national pride inherited from their ancestors. They assert that the Yasukuni Shrine that enshrines the war heroes who gave their lives for the independence of Japan and the peace of Asia is a sanctuary of prayer to recover again the pride of being Japanese.
Certainly, it cannot be said that the feigned name "liberation of Asia" is totally false, but by stressing that, the tone tends to accept that western powers are invaders and Asian peoples look with respect and gratitude to Japan. Will not be this a sign of a lack of impartiality? I got dead tired after watching the 50 minute film.
Who Are Enshrined There?
There are 20 exhibition rooms in all. Starting from "the Spirit of the Samurai" and "the History of Japanese Military Traditions" one pursues the transition of arms from old times to the Edo era. The exhibits on various historical periods after the Meiji Restoration, the Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, the China Incident and the Pacific War, etc. show how courageous modern Japan fought. At the end, under the title of "Yasukuni Gods," the photographs and different items of the war heroes enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine are exhibited.
There are two main characteristics in all the exhibits. The first one is that the Yasukuni Shrine is a shrine that worships as gods those persons who died courageously for Japan. The following are the numbers of those enshrined there. (Statistics of October 2002)

1. Meiji Restoration 7,751 persons
2. Sino-Japanese War 13,619 persons
3. Russo-Japanese War 88,429 persons
4. World War I 4,850 persons
5. World War II 2,342,421 persons
6. Other 9,357 persons
Grand Total 2,466,427 persons
Besides those, 21,000 military personnel that belonged to the Asian colonies and Koreans attached to the military establishment, as well as about 28,000 Taiwanese are also enshrined there. Among them, there are also 57,000 women, nurses and volunteer workers that together with small numbers of military reporters and children that died during the mass evacuation are also enshrined there. (The inquiries are actually done by the Shrine and the Welfare Labor Ministry makes the decisions)
On the other hand, civilians killed during the air raids or at the dropping of the atomic weapons are not enshrined at Yasukuni. The exhibits tell about how brave were the military at war, but they are practically silent about how terrible was the fighting, how severe was the life of the civilians and how many ordinary people became victims. They talk about "the people that became the basis of Japan and they mean those war heroes that fought bravely at war."

Yasukuni Shrine
The True History of Japan?
There is one more characteristic. The Yushukan extols "the right understanding of the true facts of Japanese modern history" and the focus is "Japan, a Modern State". The talk is about national pride and Japanese tradition, but everything is centered on Japanese tradition after the Meiji Restoration and national identity after Meiji.
The history of the Yasukuni Shrine shows that it is a national sanctuary built by the Japanese government for the military war dead. The Meiji government selected from among 110,000 shrines about 220 sanctuaries that were deeply related to the Imperial family or where important public leaders were enshrined and gave them the rank of "Kanpeisha," that is, "Official Shrines." In other words, they are considered "National Shrines."
In Europe a "Modern State" means a "Secular Nation," but in the case of Japan the "Modern State" means a "Religious Nation," with the results that separation of Politics and Religion has become a very complex reality.
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In the video produced by Japan Conference the descendants of the war dead and the former military appear making continuous appeals: "If the war heroes are not enshrined in Yasukuni they will not rest in peace." Once I read in the past the following thought of an anthropologist, "Funeral services are cultural ceremonies that are performed in such a way so that the survivors part gradually from the deceased". After all, the fact that the war dead are enshrined in Yasukuni is a policy to offer the descendants and war companions a way to accept the death of those killed in wars. Thus, the tale that the war dead becoming "War Heroes" (gods) are defending Japan continues on as far as we, survivors, consider it necessary.
What was the real meaning of Christ's words "let the dead bury their own dead" in answer to the request of the young person, "I will follow you, after burying my parents"? The Yasukuni shrine made me reflect on that.
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