Theater of Cruelty

Yasukuni issue

Why on all days did Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi visit the disputed Yasukuni Temple again this week?


Monday this week it happened again: For the fifth time since coming to power in 2001, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited the much-contested Yasukuni Temple in Tokyo.

And this despite the fact that a court in Osaka no later than a few weeks ago issued a ruling that Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni is contrary to the constitution's distinction between religion and state.

As expected, it led to immediate protests from China and South Korea, which in strong terms characterized the visit to Yasukuni as a "serious provocation" and "a diplomatic disaster".

Yasukuni is a symbol of Japan's aggressive militarism before and during World War II, neighboring countries believe, pointing out that the temple honors the memory of 2,5 million Japanese soldiers who died in war, including 14 who were convicted of war crimes in 1948.

"The Yasukuni problem," the Japanese themselves call this inflamed issue. And it has its origins in the time when the emperor was the son of the sun goddess and Shintoism was the country's state religion.

Yasukuni is the temple where the "heroic souls" – all in the military complex who lost their lives in modern Japanese wars – are remembered and honored.

In the period from the Sino-Japanese War to the Second World War, it was the noblest a soldier imagined to die fighting for his emperor, being divinized in Yasukuni and receiving visits from the emperor.

However, a US-enforced constitution forced through a separation between religion and state after the war. Accordingly, Yasukuni lost its state status. Since then, strong forces have sought to restore the temple under state protection.

Strong opposition among Japanese in the 1970s torpedoed the increase in achieving this through legislative changes. Instead, the political leadership aimed to draw Yasukuni back into the heat through official visits to the temple.

It was not until 1985 that Yasuhiro Nakasone took the plunge and became the first post-war prime minister to pay an official visit to the temple. It sparked loud protests, especially from China. In Japan, it resulted in rulings in the 1990s that established that Nakasone's visit was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court even ruled in 1997 that Yasukuni is a religious entity according to the constitution, thus refuting the old notion that "Shintoism is not a religion".

But even though the case appeared to be resolved legally, the pressure continued in favor

official visits to Yasukuni.

In 2000, the outspoken governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, paid his first official visit to the temple. Ishihara, who is still governor of Tokyo, has, among other things, provoked the Chinese by questioning whether the Japanese massacre in Nanking during World War II at all took place.

Another impetus for official visits to the temple was the organization of the survivors of the soldiers commemorating in Yasukuni. Their slogan during a meeting in 2000, "We can not wait any longer – let this be the year that the Prime Minister pays an official visit to Yasukuni", should prove to be a reality the following year, when Koizumi became the country's Prime Minister.

Koizumi himself says that his visit to the Yasukini Temple does not mean that he supports Japan's aggression during World War II, but that he wants to honor millions of Japanese who lost their lives during the war and pray for peace.

However, the Prime Minister's visit is really about the changes that he and his party are pushing for. At the symbolic level, they ensured that the country's national anthem and flag, powerful symbols of wartime Japan, regained official status in 1999.

Specifically, through legislative changes, Koizumi has made it possible for Japanese forces to participate in something as unheard of as military operations internationally, even in Iraq.

For many Japanese, this is about being treated fairly. For how many times will they have to apologize to their neighbors for something their militaristic ancestors did? And how long will they be forced to accept a constitution that sets requirements for those that other countries do not have to follow?

You may also like