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    Yasukuni Shrine visits still chafe

    Prime Minister Koizumi, in Chile for a 6-nation summit, has once again been asked by China to stop official visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the soldiers memorialized include war criminals. His answer seems perfectly reasonable on its face:

    Japan’s current state of peace was developed through the sacrifices of multitudes of men who went resolutely off to battle and laid down their lives for it. It is with those thoughts in mind that we make our pilgrimages [to the shrine].

    I’d say that, in World War II terms, those who laid down their lives for peace in Japan as it exists today were actually on the Allied side. But the dead memorialized at the Yasukuni Shrine include those from conflicts dating back to the Meiji Restoration. Also, it’s important to remember that there are fewer than 20 war criminals memorialized there, out of a total of over 2 million enshrined. Even those from World War II were mostly soldiers who were fighting for their country in its tradition of honor. It is sometimes said that, even so, official visits by politicians to the shrine violate constitutional law (which, like America’s, prevents the federal government from establishing a state religion). That sort of argument has never impressed me; it’s not as if anyone is trying to communicate with the ancestors for guidance about public policy. Well, as far as I know.

    The real problem, I think–not that this is an original insight of mine, or anything–is that Japan has done a lousy job of persuasively showing remorse when apologizing and providing redress for its war crimes. That makes every little gesture of respect toward World War II-era leaders and soldiers feel like a a new affront to the rest of Asia.

    It’s possible that nothing would truly satisfy the Chinese, Koreans, and Southeast Asians. After all, World War II is only the most recent installment in the grand East Asian tradition of inter-ethnic hostility, recrimination, and contempt. Still, Japan’s piecemeal approach makes it easy for diplomatic friend and foe alike to repair to events sixty years past as an excuse for not being cooperative, and the Japanese government appears disinclined to do much about it.

    23 November 00:23 EST

    4 Responses to “Yasukuni Shrine visits still chafe”

    1. Simon World says:

      Asia by Blog

      Asia by Blog is a twice weekly feature, posted on Monday and Thursday, providing links to Asian blogs and their views on the news in this fascinating region. Previous editions can be found here. This edition contains HK’s ripoff Disneyland, potential C…

    2. Simon World says:

      Asia by Blog

      Asia by Blog is a twice weekly feature, posted on Monday and Thursday, providing links to Asian blogs and their views on the news in this fascinating region. Previous editions can be found here. This edition contains HK’s ripoff Disneyland, potential C…

    3. Adamu says:

      Why is it that despite all the horrifying things the Allies did in World War II they are remembered as liberators? That because in the official memory of the War we have to believe that.
      China is lucky in that the official history gives them an infinite opportunity to demand apologies from the Japanese and then the sole discretion to decide whether any apology offered is sufficient.
      It’s my opinion that except for matters directly concerning Chinese sovereignty, Japan is under no obligation to capitulate to complaints by a foreign entity over what its politicians do. It might be true that Japan could stand to gain from stopping visits to Yasukuni, thus far Koizumi (correctly, I believe) has called their bluff. If he stopped, not only would he lose face with the LDP right wing, but then what would the Chinese ask for next?
      Personally, I don’t know why he goes to Yasukuni, but if it’s for the crass, nationalistic reasons that I suspect it is, then I’m thoroughly disgusted. Nevertheless, I disagree with the argument that Japan hasn’t done enough to apologize for China just because they’re still causing a stink about Yasukuni.

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      Well, I wasn’t saying that the cause-effect relationship runs that way. You’re right that no one should be able to use World War II as a ticket for free groveling in perpetuity. Nevertheless, where exactly is it that the Allies are seen as liberators only? I grew up outside Allentown, PA–which I can assure you was not the diplomacy capital of the world–and we learned about Dresden and about the doubts surrounding the necessity of the A-bomb. I have no reason to believe public education has tipped too far right in this post-PC age.
      Also, the only thing that has prevented the Japanese from casting themselves as liberators of Asia from oppression is that they ultimately lost the war. In fact, it is frequently taught in Japan that that justified what Japan did during the occupation of Asia.
      So I think your essential point that the victors write the history is correct, and I also agree that China has no right to tell Japanese politicians what they can do on Japanese soil (unless it involves Chinese nationals); but I don’t think that that settles the matter of addressing the wrongs of the War. When the Chinese Premier says that the Yasukuni Shrine pilgrimages are the single biggest obstacle to better Japan-China relations, I think he’s talking about them as a single, focused, convenient representation of something else: Japanese officials tend to evade direct, public acknowledgement that Japan did anything wrong during WWII. It’s easier to raise a fuss about repeated visits to a shrine that includes war criminals than it is to try to cite every free-floating “that was a regrettable thing” uttered by various mayors, governors, and Diet members. I still think there’s a genuine issue under there.