Yasakuni Shrine


matt 120pxThe Yasakuni Shrine has been in the news a lot the past few years, so it was a must-see sight for me. It was raining in the morning, but Joylani and I decided to walk anyways, as its only a few blocks from the Tosus. It looks like just a typical shrine, with gates and a few central buildings. If I didn’t know the significance, I wouldn’t have know that it was all that important, because all the signage was in Japanese. I later asked Yumi what Japanese think about prime ministerial visits to the shrine. She said that most Japanese don’t see it as offensive, because it honors those who died defending Japan. I’ve asked a couple other people about it the past two weeks and have heard similar things. Most people can see why China and Korea are upset, but they must realize that the shrine is not only dedicated to war criminals, but all Japanese who died in the war. I tend to agree that its fine for Koizumi or Abe or Aso to visit the shrine, because they are paying tribute to the common people who died in the war. And of course, being a “history buff” (as people call me), the Japanese leaders did not do anything worse than Allied commanders in the war. Had the US and UK lost the war, FDR and Churchill would have been convicted of war crimes for firebombing Japanese urban areas and indiscrimately bombing German cities. It was a terrible era, when “total war” was the norm.

I had not known that there was a museum accompanying the shrine, but seeing a war museum from a Japanese perspective was too good to pass up. After a year of seeing WWII museums from the victims of Japanese imperialism perspective, I was really curious to see how Japan saw its history. While there were exhibits on bushido, samurai, and the various shogunates, I was really interested in WWII sections. It seems that in the early part of the century, they were like any other colonial power in that they felt they had right to colonize parts of the world. They felt justified in fighting Russia and taking control of Manchuria and Korea. Similarly, they felt shafted when they didn’t get 100% of the German territory in Asia after WWI. During the interwar period, the museum tried to explain that Japan developed poor China and Korea and “incidents” such as Nanking were exaggerated and propogandized accounts which stemmed from Japanese troops trying to defend Japanese immigrants from hostile locals. As if they had a right to be there in the first place. As for WWII, the museum really took the position that Japan was forced into a corner by the US. It was, but the museum failed to mention that its reliance upon US oil and steel exports was due to its expansive imperialism. It proudly described the accomplishments of Japan early in the war, but gave an accurate description of everything. From the failed diplomatic efforts (which US history books often omit) to the hugely successful attacks in Dec-Feb of 1941-42 to the Japanese demise beginning at the Battle of Midway. The museum, almost comically, goes over the Asian countries that gained independence following WWII. I say comically, because the exhibit says that, despite its WWII defeat, independent Japan inspired independence movements from India to Indonesia, but it fails to mention that they’re the ones that colonized most of Asia! I have no idea how well the museum articulates the views of most Japanese towards their past, but I’m assuming that school textbooks aren’t that far off of the national museum’s perspectives. Its too bad that they cannot look at themselves and teach more objectively, but its nothing worse than how history is taught in Europe or America. I guess we all have a tendency to turn a blind eye to our mistakes and aggrandize our accomplishments.

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