Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasakuni Shrine

Listening to Radio Taiwan International and KBS Seoul‘s foreign service, the unease about Shinzo Abe‘s visit to the Yasakuni Shrine is palpable. I don’t know how Japanese people feel about their prime minister’s visit, or about utterances by Japanese politicians who trivialize their country’s past warcrimes. My guess is that there are many different feelings among the Japanese – but that a majority elects politicians with these kinds of attitudes anyway.

I’m not familiar with the Yasakuni Shrine. There may be reasons to visit ancestors, no matter their past. But when a politician tries to play crimes down, or if he denies them, there is something wrong with him.

If politicians from my country were careless or disrespectful about the sufferings of victims abroad, I wouldn’t believe for a moment that such politicians could care any more about injustices that hit people at home. I wouldn’t believe that he might be able to respect my dignity, or the dignity of his and my compatriots. A politician with a flawed sense of justice wouldn’t get my vote.

One Comment to “Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasakuni Shrine”

  1. As far as I’ve heard from Japanese people, opinions are mixed. On the side defending the visits, there’s the fact that there are two and a half million souls enshrined there: all the Japanese war dead since the late 1800s. Including schoolchildren fleeing Okinawa on a ship that was torpedoed by an American submarine. 14 class A “bad eggs” and nearly 1,000 minor war criminals (added in the ’70s by a rogue high priest) shouldn’t ruin the shrine, in their words.

    (Imagine the uproar if Obama said he would stop honoring the American war dead because of what we did to the Native Americans, or any of the small countries we’ve screwed over.)

    But there’s also a Japanese/Shinto cultural aspect that those of us from other countries struggle with – automatic absolution upon death. And the mixing of souls in the shrine, meaning that they can’t be extracted. Not that the government could order it, since the US wrote a separate of church and state clause into the Japanese constitution. If the shrine is run by conservative priests, as it has since the ’70s, tough luck.

    But politically it’s a terrible mistake. It would’ve been a great time for Japan to try to improve relations with South Korea, and I think Japan would be a better place if the right wing base were ignored instead of pandered to. And as you say, it’d be easier to accept if it were a different politician with a more realistic understanding of Japan’s imperial history.


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