Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Symbolic Value of Building a New Peace Memorial
HANABUSA Masamichi  / Former Japanese Ambassador to Italy

August 5, 2005
Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Shrine have unduly been compounded as a diplomatic issue in Japan's relations with China and South Korea. It seems that the Chinese and Korean leaders consider that the visit vindicates the move of certain part of Japanese to "legitimatize the wrongs of the past." On the other hand, the Prime Minister insists that the visit purports to pray for Peace and placate the souls of the perished in the last war. The average peoples of respective nations are naturally comfortable with the "politically correct" pronouncements of their leaders. Hence there is little room for compromise. As the both sides tend to become loath to lose "face", our bilateral relations with these countries will reach a total impasse.

I can imagine many frowned faces hearing a former diplomat like me to say that "something must be done about it. Japan should take an initiative for its solution." They would blame me for yet another show of the "bad habit" of Japanese weak-kneed diplomats to give preference to the views of the other side over our own. I dare think that it is necessary for us to free ourselves from "politically correct" views and see things open-mindedly as they stand.

If Yasukuni Shrine authorities adhere to their position that the souls of the so-called "Class A war criminals" prosecuted by the Tokyo War Criminal Tribunal cannot be separated from others honored there, it is wrong to force it on them. Nevertheless Japanese diplomacy should not be swayed by the policy of one shrine. It is integral for the survival of any nation to pay homage to those who sacrificed their lives for the nation. We could not concede our proper right to honor those who have perished for the nation.

In view of the horrendous damage and hardship "that war" inflicted on the Chinese people, obviously it should be Japan that must draw out the thorn. We must work out some means to enable us to honor our war dead without visiting Yasukuni Shrine.

In this connection it must be pointed that a convenient opportunity is presenting itself at the moment following the recent anti-Japanese riots in China, which seem to have produced a judgment, in the media of the world other than China's or Korea's, that "Japan has shown contrition over the past wrongs. While under no circumstance demonstrators are justified to attack diplomatic installations, Japan needs to refrain from provocative acts keeping in mind the sentiments of the wronged people."

Yasukuni visits by our Prime Minister has been made a symbol of the Japanese bigotry as the result of loud "hue and cry" made by the Chinese and Korean protestors. Symbols have long life. As whaling has been made an international symbol of environmental protection, whatever scientific data could not legitimize the resumption of commercial whaling.

When it comes to the question of mind such as the Prime Minister's visit to Yasukuni Shrine, cultural barriers are insurmountable; non-Japanese foreigners would find it next to impossible to understand the Japanese arguments that the visit is only for the purpose of praying for peace and of renewing memories of the war dead. Likewise, the explanation that Japanese shintoism does not allow the shrine to remove specific souls that have been consecrated.

I believe, therefore, that there is a strong need for the Japanese to build a recognizable symbol that can convince the world that the Japanese truly seek world peace, reject the "beautification" of the wrong past but desire to memorize the sacrifices made by the war dead. Three years ago an advisory body, though private in nature, to the then Chief Cabinet Secretary came up with the recommendation that the Japanese government should establish a "non-religious Memorial to remember the war dead." I sincerely hope that the politicians, both Government and in opposition, undertake constructive discussions on the basis of this recommendation and build a Peace Memorial which symbolizes the Japanese people's ardent desire for peace.

This Peace Memorial, when built, would greatly help us overcome the so-called "issue of historical perception "with our neighbors. Rather balanced judgment lately emerging in the third-party media of the world on how east-Asians could live with "history" augurs well for such a Japanese initiative.

The writer is a former diplomat and Chairman of the English-Speaking Union of Japan. This article first appeared in July 12 edition of the Shinano-Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

英 正道 / 元駐イタリア大使

2005年 8月 5日








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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Symbolic Value of Building a New Peace Memorial