Friday, October 21, 2005


Outline of Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni: Where religion meets nationalism


A spiritual pillar of Japanese nationalism and holy site for the Shinto faith, the majestic Yasukuni shrine in central Tokyo strikes a deep emotional chord that has come to symbolize Japan's tensions with its neighbors over the past.
During World War II, passengers on trams would bow when they passed the site. Kamikaze pilots would embark on their suicide missions with the shrine's amulets under their headbands, telling one another, "See you at Yasukuni."

More than 200,000 people, mostly elderly, including veterans decked out in their military uniforms, thronged into the Shinto sanctuary on Aug. 15 to mourn the dead on the 60th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi avoided the shrine on that sensitive day but visited on Monday, his fifth visit since taking office in April 2001, in defiance of furious protests by China and South Korea.

For many Japanese leaders, those reactions show that no matter how many times they apologize for the war or recommit themselves to Tokyo's post-1945 pacifism, neighboring nations will continue to take them to task.

The guardians of the sanctuary go further, with a Yasukuni brochure describing the World War II leaders controversially enshrined there as "people unilaterally and wrongly accused of being war criminals by a show trial organized by the Allies."

The sanctuary was built in June 1869, as Japan installed a state religion with the emperor as divine, to honor soldiers who died in the Meiji restoration the year before that marked the start of the nation's modernization.

The name Yasukuni, adopted in 1879, comes from Chinese classical literature and means "to bring peace to the nation."

The shrine lists the names of 2,466,532 "eternal souls" -- not only soldiers, but also nurses, students, bureaucrats and firefighters killed in air raids -- from 11 wars, two of them domestic and the others with Russia, China, Korea, Taiwan and the United States.

Among those enshrined are some 57,000 women. There are also foreigners who fought for colonial ruler Japan: 28,000 Taiwanese and 21,000 Koreans.

Most controversial are 14 "Class-A" war criminals, the most serious offenders in the eyes of the U.S.-led Tokyo trials.

But the idea of removing the Class-A criminals' souls from the sanctuary is blasphemy for the Shinto faith, in which humans become "kami" deities once they die, and are venerated by their descendants.

The 14, of whom seven were hanged, were enshrined at Yasukuni in October 1978 by chief priest Nagayoshi Matsudaira with the tacit agreement of the government but without parliament being informed.

Shingo Ohyama, a Shinto priest and spokesman for Yasukuni shrine, told AFP earlier that the Tokyo trials judged Japanese leaders on legal grounds that did not exist at the time.

Shigeru Yoshida in 1951 became the first premier to visit the sanctuary after the war and there were no rebukes from abroad.

China also did not protest when prime ministers Masayoshi Ohira and Zenko Suzuki went between 1980 and 1982 after the war criminals were enshrined.

China first protested when then prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone went on August 15, 1985, in an official capacity on the 40th anniversary of surrender.

It seems strange that China didn't start protests until 1985. Why China started protests is that Asahi Shimbun stirred up Chicom by fabrication.

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