Day 10 – Yasukuni Shrine and Diet Building

June 17, 2007 at 10:13 pm | Posted in Japan, Tokyo, Travel | 2 Comments

My last full day in Tokyo (Thursday for those keeping score) started off poorly as it was a rather rainy and blustery so I contented myself with email and blogging until things clearer up a bit in the afternoon. Luckily, there were only 2 things to do today go to the Diet and the Yasukuni shrine.

Japan’s Diet (pronounced more like “D-et” than “I’m on a Jenny Craig…) is its House of Parliament and for a politics geek like me it seemed a fairly obvious choice however none of my guide books cared – except to say it has interesting architecture. I can appreciate this stance given that the tour is only in Japanese but you are given a reasonably comprehensive English brochure. The only tedious point is sitting in the Lower House chamber when the guide puts on an audio track talking about political …stuff… and the question and answer session afterwards. Nonetheless having the opportunity to wander (in a regimented line) through these halls and viewing the Imperial Hall, Suite and Entry (only used by the Emperor, so basically once a year) and other portions of the building, in addition to the information in the guide was a worthwhile activity. The guide, although not speaking English, was friendly and always made sure my guidebook was at the correct place. Language barriers to one side the only problem I can see with this tour is for anyone with disabilities or poor fitness as you do go up and down a fair few steps.

After about an hour I now had to rush to the Yasukuni shrine (controversial for housing the remains of several Class A War Criminals from World War II). The shrine itself appears rather simple, in keeping with most shrines I have seen in Japan and there is no external sign that this is anything more or less than a shrine. In other words nothing seems outwardly controversial. I thought I would have very little time to look through the museum as it was almost 4:30 by the time I arrived – however I’d assumed I could get through it pretty quickly like I did most museums in Japan. I was wrong on both counts, luckily the opening hours had been extended to 5:30 and unfortunately there was considerable English text and displays meaning I was barely a third through when told to start making my way out. This of course precipitated a mad rush through the remaining sections getting a bare grasp on the contents before moving on.

As to the museum itself, there are plenty of displays outlining Japanese soldiers’ efforts during their civil war and those further afield. As mentioned there is a sizeable amount of English and my inner cynic says this is to try and argue the Japanese case for various conflicts to a non-Japanese audience. The non-cynic simply thinks that the museum curators wanted to improve tourism.

I’ll be honest about my thoughts on Yasukuni and I’ll provide a few caveats before hand: as noted above I did not read everything fully so I may have missed out on valuable information, and I am obviously not Japanese nor a follower of Shinto so I am unaware of the religious/cultural issues. First off, I don’t have a problem with Japan paying its respects and thanking its soldiers for their work (much as today with the politicians’ mantra of supporting troops but not the policy) and doing this at a Shrine doesn’t concern me any more than any other war memorial. However, that respect and tribute shouldn’t apply to war criminals. Having said that and this is where I lack information, Shinto may (or not) have a particularly strong forgiveness element (after all don’t most religions?) which would permit interring these criminals, but with that in mind, shouldn’t the losers in the civil war also be forgiven and interred? While pondering that I wonder how the dead Southern soldiers in the US civil war were treated (Australia not having a similar experience for me to draw upon). Without knowing more about the religious context I am at a loss as to the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of having them there.

As to the shrine museum where it provides a (revisionist?) explanation for Japanese expansion and I acknowledge that every country has different interpretations, history is written by the victors and in the long view of history Empires come and go and normally there may be a few winners but generally there are lots of losers. Having said that and recognising that this is a commemoration I don’t think you can talk about history and arguing a point (like these criminals should be here) without offering a refutation or indeed explaining the reason why people are angry is ‘x’ and this is (or is it?) false because of ‘y’. Basic academic debate. For example, I’ve lived in Nanjing and gone several times to the Nanjing Massacre Museum and while I concede that the death toll will never truly be known, there was definitely a death toll and it was more than simply an incident with about 3 small paragraphs tucked away on a wall in the shrine. Although this is favourable compared to the POW labour camps which received no mention at all. Comfort women may have had some comment but I cannot recall the specifics. I’m unaware of Tokyo having a shrine/museum of remembrance dedicated to these acts that would offset the Yasakuni avoiding the subject.

I suppose what my rambling is trying to say is that if you want to argue a point you need to offer and dispute the counter argument or failing that acknowledge the fault and hopefully move on. I would hope any memorial/ museum could aspire to that but I cannot recall what was (or was not) featured in the Australian War Memorial Museum and have yet to go to the British. Lastly, if the Japanese Government’s/PM position by going to the shrine is one of supporting the bulk of troops but not the acts of (hopefully) a minority then this needs to be argued and presented better.

Now feel free to disagree/argue but note I do not in any way shape or form pretend to be an expert on the Yasukuni and its associated issues, these are simply my reactions as I claw towards a better understanding.


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  1. Hi Michael!

    Looks like you are having the time of your life with all the travelling ^^ Bet you are not missing the Bank eh? While I must admit I haven’t read your entries in detail, from the bits I’ve read, looks like the break hasn’t eroded your academic and analytical mind whatsoever. Good stuff! Anyway, trust that all is well with you. Drop me a line when you can find time.

    See you ~


  2. Thank you Arthur. I do miss the work at the Bank and I’m not just saying that because some of you read this blog. What I really miss though is Lindt!

    Good luck with everything and hope work and life is treating you well.

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