Dangerous dogmatism - The meaning and insanity of Japan PM Abefs visit to Yasukuni shrine
By Akira Ibori Attorney at Law 1.5.2014
The unexpected visit
Japanfs Prime Minister Abefs visit to the controversial Yasukuni shrine on December 26th last year made headlines around the world, despite domestic mediafs predictions that it will not take place within the year. Because of the intense international situation surrounding Japan and the East, they analyzed it would not be diplomatically beneficial to fuel the anger of China and South Korea.
After the establishment of Abefs second administration, Japanfs relations with China and South Korea worsened due to territorial disputes of Senkaku and Takeshima islands, and the establishment of an air defense identification zone by China has ratcheted up tensions in the relationship between China and Japan. In addition, Abe repeatedly issued statements on comfort women and constitution revision upsetting the neighboring nations, and by rapidly making legislative attempts towards strengthening military affairs by submitting Japanfs NSC and Secrecy Law bills, or reviewing Three Principles on Arms Exports, Abe laid out policies that raised tensions around the East. The summit meeting between Japanese, Chinese and South Korean leaders is not fulfilled to this day.
Going ahead with the visit to the Yasukuni shrine on this basis would surely cause irreparable damage to the relations with China and South Korea, and to take this as a foreign policy was a hundred harms and not a single gain situation.
gI believe that my visiting to Yasukuni shrine should not become a political or foreign issue.h Prime Minister Abe himself stated at a press conference. The remarks of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was carried out by a government official that he assumed a prudent position on this issue. The first-ever meeting between Foreign Minister Kishida and ambassador of China to Japan, Ambassador Cheng Yonghua took place on the 20th, and the two had just mutually agreed to exert efforts to mend fences (Jiji News).
Furthermore, one of Japanfs allies USA was holding Abefs Yasukuni visiting in check. This is why Unites States Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel paid a floral tribute to Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery on October 3rd upon their visit to Japan. In sum, no one thought Prime Minister Abe would act out of line.
The optimism was betrayed
However, our optimism was betrayed. Prime Minister Abe went out of line. He even chose the day of his visit to Yasukuni shrine to be his first anniversary date of Abe administration establishment.
China and South Korea are naturally raising strenuous objections. The Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi lodged a severe protest with Japanese Ambassador to China Masato Kitera on the 26th, and cancelled the meeting that afternoon between Vice Premier of China Liu Yandong and supra-party Diet members. China's State Councilor Yang made comments severely critical of Prime Minister Abe on the 28th.
South Korea immediately released an announcement stated, gWe are distressed and in rage. It was an anachronistic act that damages not only the relation between South Korea and Japan, but fundamentally destroys the stability and combined efforts of North East Asia.h (The Nikkei) They seem to be considering concrete measures including the recall of the ambassador to Japan.
The American Embassy and the State Department spokesman claimed that America is disappointed and concerned of his acts.
The telephone meeting between Japanfs Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera and Americafs Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel that was due on the 27th was postponed. In addition, Japan has received criticism from a high ranked official of EU, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or Secretary General of the United Nation.
Criticism from media within and outside the country
Japanese newspapers such as Asahi, Mainichi, Tokyo, or Nikkei all criticized Prime Minister Abefs visit to the Yasukuni shrine through their editorial articles. Even Yomiuri questioned, gWhy now? What kind of determination and preparation did he have? The concerns cannot be dispelled.h
International newspapers are no different. On the 26th, New York Times wrote that his act was gA Dangerous Nationalismh, Wall Street Journal wrote, gVisiting Yasukuni shrine was like a gift to the Chinese leadership that has been using Japanfs shady resurgence of militarism as a pretext to their military aggrandizement.h (TBS) On the 27th, Washington Post wrote, gIt was a provocative act which could contribute to weaken Japanfs international standing and security.h (Jiji News)
On the 28th, The Australian wrote that his act was gAn Own Goalh, and that it was gA Self-Invited Major Diplomatic Setback.h (Kyodo News)
Japanfs public opinion
As if Prime Minister Abe predicted these reactions, he released a statement immediately after his Yasukuni shrine visit on the 26th:
1. I went to express my sympathy and prayed for the spirits of the war dead who fought and died for our country.
2. The visit gives a meaning of a vow for no-war with a deep remorse of the past in mind.
With this, he concluded that,
3. I did not intend to damage our relations with China and South Korea, and would like to achieve a harmonious relationship with respect.
Considering Abefs current policies, ga vow for no-warh in No.2 is nothing but a laugh. As for gI did not intend to damage our relations with China and South Koreah in No.3, itfs nonsense because Abefs already bombarded with criticism. But as for No.1, it is possible that the majority of Japanese may say that itfs natural for a prime minister to visit the shrine to show his sympathy.
Herefs what I mean. A Japanese entertainerfs blog burst into flames after he wrote that Abefs Yasukuni shrine visit was like a German prime minister visiting Hitlerfs grave. A best selling author commented that a countryfs representative has every right to express his sympathy and pray for the spirits for the war dead who fought and died for our country. (Asahi)
These show that even people without political thoughts that are certainly not rightwingers could be one-ideaed which could exist in no small measure.
What is Yasukuni shrine and the meaning of Abefs visit
The reason these go unmentioned could be because people do not wildly understand what Yasukuni shrine truly is.
Yasukuni shrine is fundamentally different from other war memorial facilities. Under the former imperial state, Yasukuni shrine served as a spiritual pillar of Japan's aggression in Asia and militarism as a religious military facility that was controlled by the emperorfs troop, which was called the Ministry of War and the Ministry of the Navy. This remain essentially intact postwar. The booklet issued by the Yasukuni shrine office states, gThe war was truly a sad experience. However the soldiers had to fight in order to firmly protect our independence, and to prosper along with other Asian nations as a peaceful country. Many of those who offered their precious lives to incidents and wars are enshrined in Yasukuni shrine. Furthermore, the allied forces (America, England, Holland, China, etc.) in conflict with Japan, one-sidedly accused 1,618 Japanese as war criminals after a mockery of a trial, and they were killed without mercy. In Yasukuni shrine, they are enshrined as Showa era martyrs.h
Based on the premise of these historic perspectives, (1) soldiers who are not only victims but are assailants of war, (2) are honored as war dead at Yasukuni shrine because they died for the emperor. Yasukuni is more than a memorial shrine.
That is to say that Yasukuni shrine is a facility that praise war pursuers based on its one-of-a-kind historical perspective, which perceives every Japanese war in recent times to be of self-defense, justifies colonial rule, and propagandizes historical perspective that the Asia-Pacific War was to liberalize Asia. Therefore, rather then a memorial shrine, Yasukuni is a place where (1) soldiers that were assailants and not victims of war, (2) are honored because they died for the emperor. Yasukuni shrine is also viewed as a problem because it enshrines class-A war criminals. But by understanding the nature of Yasukuni shrine, there may be nowhere else that befits the enshrinement.
In sum, Prime Minister Abefs visit to a place like this only calls strong political attention that Japan perceives the above historical perspective. Japanese must realize that this is what the international society including China, South Korea and America are exactly criticizing about.
The reality of the war dead
People may feel the urge to express their condolences to the spirits of the war dead of the last war who died in despair. However, valuing soldiers who died of a reckless suicide mission, malaria or malnutrition in the south pacific islands that their act was to protect the country is twisted logic, and it buries the responsibilities of war leaders at that time.
Japan should not have waged a war that drove many people to die tragically. If therefs anything that Abe can do to the war dead, it is to apologize about claiming their lives due to the lack of governmental policy, not to glorify or appreciate them.
Itfs about time we lose patience with PM Abefs acts
Prime Minister Abe may feel that he sought for an understanding by contriving the procedure of his visit (he also visited Chinreisha, or Spirit Pacifying Shrine in Yasukuni shrine precinct which was built to console the souls of everyone who died in wars) and that he domestically made an appeal about his own foreign policy stance, which maintains a certain distance toward not only China and South Korea, but to the U.S.A. However, it is not that easy for the international society to follow along his self-absorbed, manipulative manners.
I believe itfs about time we lose patience with Prime minister Abefs insufferably-complacent logic and acts.