Friday, November 04, 2005

Yasukuni Jinjya

Today was a holiday in Japan (Culture Day, apparently, though I didn't know this until just now, when I checked it out on google.) So I decided to use the time to see something I've been meaning to check out for some time now: Yasukuni Jinjya, the Shrine of the Peace of the Nation. Things got off to a bit of a rocky start (my evil room-mate got twisted my rubber arm and got me to stay up all night playing Tekken 5 and Soul Calibur II, so I woke up a little late) and as a result, the shrine was of course closed by the time I found it ... assuming it was open at all today, Shinto shrines following schedules that are frankly opaque.

At any rate, I was still able to walk around for a bit and snap some pictures. To start things off, here's one of the Toori gates that marks the entrance to the shrine's grounds. These things are
massive, imposing concrete monsters; you've probably seen more traditional kinds before in pictures from Japan, usually painted red and decorated and such. It's really hard for this picture to do justice to what it feels like to walk through one of these.

Some background on Yasukuni may be in order. If you've heard of it at all, it's probably only in relation to Prime Minister Koizumi's annual visits to the shrine, which stirred controversy in Japan and quite a bit of acrimony in Korea and China (even leading up to anti-Japanese riots in some Chinese cities.) The reason for this is that, since 1978, fourteen Class A war criminals have been enshrined here, including the executed Tojo.

Before I came here, that was pretty much all I knew of Yasukuni, and I found myself wondering how a modern, liberal democracy like Japan could have a shrine to war criminals. It just didn't make sense.

The answer is quite simple: Yasukuni is not a shrine to war criminals, it is a shrine to every single soldier who has died serving Japan since the Meiji Restoration. 2,466,532 names are written in it's Book of Souls. When Koizumi visits the shrine, he's not honoring a handful of monsters; he's paying his respects to the two and a half million young men who gave their lives for their Emporer. Regardless of what one might think of Japan's motives for the carnage it inflicted throughout the first half of the 20th century (and there's a museum nearby, which I didn't get a chance to go to, that puts forth the view that those wars were motivated not by callous expansionism but by a desire to check the influence of European powers in Asia) it is very difficult to say with a straight face that the Prime Minister is out of line in visiting the shrine. There are many, in Japan and outside, who say the visits needlessly antagonize China ... but if the Chinese are so easily angered, then frankly they're looking for an excuse (which I think they are, though that's a subject for another post.)

Here's another picture I took, a little further in on the grounds. It's a statue of Omura Masajiro, the admiral who presided over the modernization of the Japanese military during the Meiji Restoration. I know this because of a bronze plaque at the base, helpfully translating what I assume is the writing you can just make out on the column.

Now that I know where the shrine is, I plan to go back there next week and check it out in more detail (including, hopefully the museum with it's, er, unique take on the history of Japanese militarism.) Check back on Tuseday or Wednesday for more....


At 2:29 AM, Blogger Kushibo said...

Go and visit the museum next time. Absorb the message of "the Americans forced us into war" and "the Chinese gave us no choice but to attack" and then see if the visits there are quite so innocuous.

At 3:35 AM, Blogger Matt said...

Just did that today, actually. The post will be up shortly.


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