Saturday, December 31, 2005

Yasukuni. Right or Wrong: The War Shrine needs Regime Change

The Yasukuni Shrine is a controversial facility. Some people regard it the national monument to honor servicemen and women who died in the war. Others regard it the evil shrine of wartime jingoism. China and Korea use these controversies, to impose their psychological supremacy on Japan. Also, they use the Yasukuni issue to split the US-Japanese alliance.

I am against Yasukuni because this shrine retains prewar ideology, which is completely incompatible with Japan after the regime change. However, when I read debates on Yasukuni between my Japanese blogmates, named Mao and Kaku, I realized that I did not know well enough about this shrine. I thought it necessary to understand what was right and wrong with the Yasukuni Shrine, thereby making it clear why I oppose praying service men and women at this shrine.

I went to the Yasukuni Shrine on December 22 to understand its ideological background. As I arrived at the shrine, I entered the Yushukan, the museum attached to Yasukuni. This museum exhibits various items of Japanese history from the ancient period. At first, I saw some pieces of ancient materials such as poems, documents, aristocratic clothes, samurai swords, and so forth. These exhibitions were not associated with wartime fascism, and I felt them somewhat unexpectedly peaceful. I wondered whether it was really the “notorious war shrine.” But in my later thought, these displays emphasized the divinity of emperor and bushido (samurai spirit). I felt it very odd, because they are not everything in Japanese history.

In the section of first US-Japanese encounter, when Commodore Perry’s fleet arrived in Japan in 1853, I found some Shinto jingoism in the exhibits. On the board, expansion of Western colonial empires in Asia is mentioned “encroachment.” This is odd, because Japan itself became a colonial empire in latter days. I found another mistake in this section, saying that Japan decided to end seclusion foreign policy because it surrendered US gunboat diplomacy. This is not true. Japan joined the global community, because Japanese people realized that Japan could not be isolated from the world any more. In my eyes, these errors show fundamental values of this museum.

Then, I came up to the Meiji section. I enjoyed dynamic atmosphere of this era. I didn’t see anything problematic there. However, when I arrived at Russo-Japanese War (1904~1905) section, chauvinist tone had become intensified. I saw a short cinema there. I heard some chilling words in the cinema. According to the film, the war broke out, because Japan could no longer bear Russians’ arrogant behavior to encroach Manchuria and Korea. True? I believe that Japan decided to fight against Russia, because Russian expansion to Manchuria and Korea poses serious threat to Japan’s national security. It is utterly unacceptable to begin the war out of emotionalism. I found a couple of chauvinist expressions in this film. I felt ridiculous to hear that Japanese army showed generosity to Russians who surrendered to them, which was out of samurai spirit. Quite often, foreign forces are generous enough, although they don’t have samurai spirit.

Going on, I saw World War Ⅰ and World War Ⅱ section. I heard there were some displays to justify the rape of Nanjing there, but I did not see something like this. I may have missed them. What drew my attention in this section were exhibitions to advocate the Greater East Asian Community during the war. The fascist regime insisted that people in East Asia wipe away Western influence, and pursue common prosperity under Japanese leadership. In fact, Japanese fascists wanted to dominate natural resource in East Asia, rather than liberating Asians from White rule. Since Japan was one of colonial empires like Western great powers, it is utterly strange that Japan fight against the West on behalf of Asian nations. Wartime leaders should have read Samuel Huntington, because Japan and Asia are different civilizations. Alas, his book was published in 1990s.

It is true that the rise of Japan encouraged non-Western nations. They learned a lot from Japanese experience. But some countries like Turkey and Iran modeled after Japan as a secular modern state and Western great power, not Asian state. Fascist leaders failed to understand this point, and pursued a grandiose dream of establishing the Greater East Asian Community. The Japanese nation should never repeat this mistake again.

In the final section, I saw a display on criticism against the Tokyo tribunal by judge Radha Binod Pal. He was a member of judge group at this tribunal on behalf of India. He argued procedures at this court do not comply with the due process law, but they are political shows by the allied forces. His opinion is a bible to Japanese nationalists, whether radical or moderate, to question validity of the Tokyo tribunal. Although this section is the crown jewelry of the Yushukan museum, I found no board to explain it in English. I do not agree with Yushukan viewpoints, but it is quite strange that they do not send their message to the world on such a vital issue. Are they afraid of further bad reputation on the global stage?

Having seen the museum, I would like to examine what is wrong with Yasukuni ideology. The basic value of this shrine is Sonnoh Johi: to dethrone the Tokugawa shogunate, in order to revitalize Japan under the reign of divine Mikado, and expel barbarians from holy land of the Japanese archipelago. Sonnoh Johi activists were local samurais who are devotedly loyal to the emperor. Therefore, the Yushukan museum out much emphasis on Mikado and bushido.

However, Mikado is the head of kuge, or aristocrats. Bushido is not necessary. Yasukuni boasts Japanese victory over great powers as I mentioned about Russo-Japanese War section in this post. In my view, this reflects their Sonnoh Johi values. Also, the museum stresses Japan’s prestige as a great nation. This is the reason why the Yasukuni shrine extols Japanese supremacy in the Asia. No wonder, China is allergic to this shrine. Things will not change, no matter how they deal with war criminals and the rape of Nanjing.

Finally, I would like to introduce an interesting booklet sold at this museum, which is entitled “Prime Minister must pray at the Yasukuni Shrine!” (published by Meiseisha). Unfortunately, I did not find English translation of this brochure. However, it is a very helpful handbook to understand thoughts of the Yasukuni shrine. I found some questionable expressions in this booklet, like the following.

Japanese forces did their best to treat POWs…on the other hand, British forces were cruel to war prisoners…. and US forces were reluctant to accept POWs…(p.9)

McArthur…. hung General Yamashita for his “cruel behavior.” In fact, it was McArthur’s revenge for his humiliating loss in the Philippines against Yamashita. But General Yamashita was a real samurai. He accepted this unfair judgment as it was, and did not get jittery. (p. 44, cartoon)

The above comments show Yasukuni’s deep-rooted hatred against the allied forces, such as the US and Britain. The tone is very emotional. Do they reject postwar regime change in Japan? On the other hand, I agree to their steadfast attitude against continuous blame by China and Korea on Japan’s misconduct during the war. Whether you are pro or con to Yasukuni, this is a recommendable booklet to understand their viewpoints. But don’t be brainwashed.

In consequence, Yasukuni values are not compatible with Japan after the regime change. Therefore, it is not appropriate for Japanese prime ministers to pray at this shrine. However, those who died in the service must be honored. In order to find a good idea to resolve this paradox, it is necessary to make it clear what is right and wrong with the Yasukuni shrine. Whether pro or con to this shrine, don’t get emotional too much. In the end, I would like to request a regime change of this shrine. Then, anyone can visit there to honor service men and women.