UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Yasukuni Shrine [Yasukuni Jinja]

In what has become an annual ritual in more ways than one, Japan's prime minister sent a symbolic offering to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine on 15 August 2014, the anniversary of the end of World War II. The act that brought immediate condemnation from South Korea and China. Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not visit the Yasukuni Shrine himself, two of his cabinet ministers did. In Seoul, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said some Japanese politicians were acting in a way that hurts both countries. A commentary from China's Xinhua news agency said Japan is sowing the seeds of another war.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the controversial Yasukuni shrine December 26, 2013, sparking outrage in China and South Korea and further damaging Japan's already frosty relations with the region. Yasukuni shrine honors the spirits [kami] country's nearly 2.5 million war dead, including convicted Class A war criminals from the Pacific War [aka World War II]. Abe said his visit was a personal one to honor the spirits of the dead and was not meant to hurt Chinese or Korean sentiments. He said his presence was meant to show Japan was against war. Nonetheless, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang responded sharply to Abe's action.

Abe did not personally visit the Yasukuni Shrine on October 17, 2013, the first day of an annual autumn festival, but did send a ritual offering. About 160 Japanese lawmakers from a nonpartisan group worshipped at the Yasukuni Shrine on the morning of October 17, 2013 to mark the autumn festival. Xinhua commentator Shi Xiaomeng wrote that "The recent ritual offering by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo and the ensuing noisy visit to the notorious facility are but a blatant provocation to the victimized nations and a threat to post-World War II order.... Such brazenly provocative moves are meant to undermine relations and overturn the post-World War II order. For the nations victimized by Japan's war-time aggression, the Yasukuni Shrine has proven to be a symbol and spiritual tool of Japanese militarism."

On 15 August 2013, over 100 Japanese politicians paid a group visit to Yasukuni Shrine to mark the 68th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II. North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper suggested that the politicians paid the visit with the aim to "call back the 'departed soul of Yamato" and that the shrine honored "militarist maniacs steeped in extreme Yamato nationalism to their bones." Visits to the shrine regularly provoked responses from North and South Korea, and China due to the controversial nature of the internees.

Two Japanese Cabinet ministers visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine that honors the country's war dead, prompting an angry reaction from South Korea and China. The visit came on the anniversary of Japan's 1945 surrender in World War II, which in South Korea is celebrated as Liberation Day. Public visits by Japanese officials to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine regularly draw ire from Seoul and Beijing, which were two of the main victims of Japanese aggression in the first half of the 20th century. China summoned Japan's ambassador to protest the visit. Beijing's foreign ministry said the move "seriously harms the feelings" of the Chinese people.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye called on Tokyo to face up to history and take "sincere measures" to alleviate the pain of those who are scarred by history. President Park made it clear that it would be difficult to build trust between the two countries, if Japan doesn't have the courage to face its past wrongdoings and the heart to care for the pain of others. "I expect responsible and sincere measures from the Japanese government in order to heal the pain that many Koreans have suffered with until now, due to the agony and wounds left behind by the history of the two countries."

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided against a visit on the anniversary, out of concerns it could further worsen ties with Japan's neighbors. But he did send an aide to deliver an offering at the shrine. About 6,000 took part in a government-sponsored memorial ceremony in Tokyo to mourn the souls of about 3.1 million war dead. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said present-day peace and prosperity is built on the sacrifice of the war dead. He promised to keep lessons from the war in mind and strive to build a future full of hope. At noon, participants held a minute of silent prayers. Emperor Akihito said he hopes the horrors of war will never be repeated. He said he will mourn for those who died during the war and pray for world peace and Japan's continued prosperity.

Prime Minister Abe pledged to face the past humbly at a ceremony marking Japan's anniversary of the end of World War Two on Thursday, but he made no mention of the country's war-time aggression in Asia. That's a break from the tradition for many years. Prime ministers have all touched on the issue in their speeches at the government-sponsored ceremony, saying Japan inflicted considerable damage and pain against the people of Asian nations during the war. Abe himself had mentioned this in 2007 when he served his first term as prime minister.

A group of Japanese lawmakers visited the controversial war shrine seen by some as a symbol of Tokyo's pre-war colonial aggression. A total of 168 members of parliament visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine on April 23, 2013. The annual visit comes days after three Japanese cabinet members prayed at the shrine, prompting condemnations from South Korea and China. South Korean foreign ministry spokesperson Cho Tai-young denounced the visit during a regular press briefing. "Yasukuni Shrine is the place where war criminals are enshrined and it beautifies a war. They should have time to reflect on themselves and should think about what impression it gives to people in the related country and what people are thinking about it."

From ancient times the people of Japan believed that the mitama (soul) of the deceased remained upon the land to be celebrated by their descendants. It was believed that the mitama of the deceased would watch over the good fortune of their descendants together with the ancestral Kami. The ancestral Kami were celebrated upon this land for celebra-tion by their descendants would bring the greatest joy to the mitama of these Kami who protected the livelihood and prosperity of their descendants. Yasukuni Jinja was founded upon this belief from ancient times.

To convey to posterity the noble sacrifice of those who worked for the Imperial Restoration, the Emperor Meiji decreed in June 1869 that a shrine be built in Kudanshita of Tokyo called Tokyo Shokonsha. When the Emperor Meiji visited Tokyo Shokonsha for the first time on January 27 in 1874, he composed a poem; "I assure those of you who fought and died for your country that your names will live forever at this shrine in Musashino". As can be seen in this poem, Yasukuni Shrine was established to commemorate and honor the achievement of those who dedicated their precious life for their country. In 1879, Tokyo Shokonsha was renamed Yasukuni Jinja. The name "Yasukuni" was designated by the Emperor Meiji. In this name is His Majesty's sincere hope for the eternal peace and tranquility of the nation. (The character for "Yasu" has the same meaning as "peaceful".)

Currently, more than 2,466,000 "divinities" are enshrined [not buried] at Yasukuni Shrine. These are souls of men who made ultimate sacrifice for their nation since 1853 during national crises such as the Boshin War, the Seinan War, the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, World War I, the Manchurian Incident, the China Incident and the Greater East Asian War (World War II). These people, regardless of their rank or social standing, are considered to be completely equal and worshipped as venerable divinities of Yasukuni.

Japanese people believe that their respect to and awe of the deceased is best expressed by treating the dead in the same manner as they were alive. Hence, at Yasukuni Shrine, rituals to offer meals and to dedicate words of appreciation to the dead are repeated every day. And, twice every year-in the spring and autumn-major rituals are conducted, on which occasion offerings from His Majesty the Emperor are dedicated to them, and also attended by members of the imperial family.

In 1948, 28 Japanese war criminals were brought before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) in Tokyo. Of the 25 who were convicted, 14 were officially enshrined at Yasukuni. The Yasakuni Shrine [Yasukuni Jinja] is controverial because it contains the souls [kami, not buried but enshrined] of 1,068 "Martyrs of Showa" who were "cruelly and unjustly tried as war criminals by a sham-like tribunal" of the Allied forces (United States, England, the Netherlands, China and others).

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (known as the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal) began in May 1946. There were 28 Class A defendants from a cross-section of senior Japanese officials, including generals, admirals, career diplomats, and bureaucrats. Most prominent among them were Hideki Tojo, Prime Minister of Japan through most of the war, and wartime foreign ministers Koki Hirota (a former premier), Mamoru Shigemitsu, and Shigenori Togo. Class A defendants were charged with three categories of offenses: conspiracy to commit aggression, aggression, and conventional war crimes. The prosecution produced more than 400 witnesses, almost 800 witness affidavits, and more than 4,000 other documents.14 Additional tribunals that sat outside of Tokyo judged over 5,500 individuals in more than 2,200 trials. These Class B and C war criminals were charged with committing atrocities during battle, during occupation, or against prisoners of war. Some of these trials were held in Yokohama and others were convened throughout the former theater of war.

General MacArthur's hastily organized trials in Manila, the first war crimes trials in the Far East, found Japanese generals Tomoyuki Yamashita and Masaharu Homma guilty, and both were executed. In Shanghai, American tribunals were also held for Japanese soldiers who participated in the trial and execution of American pilots under the "Enemy Airmen's Act," promulgated by the Japanese after the Doolittle raid on Japan in April 1942, as well as for personnel at POW camps in China who abused prisoners. The U.S. Navy held trials for war crimes committed in the Pacific. Many of these proceedings involved close cooperation with British, Australian, and Dutch authorities.

The Yasakuni website stated that " ... to defend the independence of the nation as well as the peace of Asia, the sad development of wars with other countries arose. In the Meiji Period there was the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War. In the Taisho Period there was the First World War. Then in the Showa Period occurred the Manchurian Incident, the China Incident and the Greater East Asian War ... 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 must pass judgment on this matter in the same manner of a tribunal that passes judgment after gathering credible proof. 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."

Asian countries regard the Yasukuni Shrine as a symbol of Japanese militarism and felt indignant at the Japanese Government's disregard for other people. Japanese public opinion criticized the official visit to the Yasukuni Shrine on the 40th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, describing it as "an adverse current. Several major newspapers in their editorials strongly protested the visit by Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and other cabinet ministers in their official capacities. Nakasone was the first post-war prime minister to visit Yasukuni in his officialcapacity as head of the government. China bitterly opposed the August 12, 2001 visit to the Yasukuni Shrine by Prime Minister Koizumi.

On August 15, 2012, two Japanese Cabinet ministers paid a visit to the Yasakuni Shrine. The visit by National Public Safety Commission Chairman Jin Matsubara and Land Minister Yuichiro Hatahomage was the first visit by a cabinet minister since the Democratic Party came to power in 2009. It coincided with the 67th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II and took place amid worsening tensions between Japan and neighboring China over competing sovereignty claims on uninhabited islands (known Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China) and a similar dispute with South Korea over other uninhabited islands known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 15-08-2014 14:40:40 ZULU