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

Emperor Showa and the Yasukuni Shrine
FUKUHARA Koichi / Journalist

August 11, 2006
The media report that Emperor Showa, out of displeasure over the enshrining of Class A war criminals at the Yasukuni shrine, decided to refrain from any further visits to the shrine has helped bring into clearer focus the points of contention in the debate over Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine.

Prime Minister Koizumi has said, "Paying respects at the Yasukuni shrine is a matter of the heart. Every one (emperors and prime ministers included) is free to go and not to go." The prime minister and the late emperor differ significantly in their attitude toward the Yasukuni shrine. Emperor Showa, as the head of state at the time of Japan's defeat, gravely took to heart the issues of war responsibility and the war criminals. The prime minister manifested Japanese nationalism by engaging actively in diplomacy in pursuit of a political status on the international stage befitting the second most powerful economy in the world. It seems abundantly clear which stance more squarely addresses the foreign policy challenges Japan faces and will serve better the purpose of overcoming them.

At the outset of the occupation of Japan, the United States decided to ensure the efficiency of administration by allowing the Imperial system to continue. Emperor Showa won the trust of the occupying authority by adhering to an attitude that clearly showed his deep recognition of his war responsibility. At the same time he understood that the question of his own war responsibility could not be settled by the wishes of the US alone.

Who will bear the responsibility for the war on behalf of the emperor? That question was more or less settled as the verdicts for Class A war criminals by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East were finalised and the war criminals themselves accepted their fate, which was to bear the blame on behalf of the emperor.

The enshrining of the Class A war criminals later has been interpreted as an act to honour them, an act meant to nullify the significance of the Tokyo War Tribunal. It was an act that risked bringing back to square one the debate over war responsibility including that of the emperor. When the emperor commented that "The son does not appreciate the reflections of the father" in relation to the person who rammed the decision to enshrine the Class A war criminals he was directing his concern to many who did not appreciate the weightiness of war responsibility.

The process that led to the normalisation of relations between Japan and China in 1972 also attested to the emperor's concerns. When waiving China's claim to war reparations Mao Ze-dong and Zhou En-lai, who at the time enjoyed unfettered leadership, attempted to convince the Chinese people that "the Japanese masses should not be forced to bear the burden of reparations because of a handful of Japanese militarists." This magnanimity moved the Japanese people who were truly grateful. Yet, they remained oblivious to the gravity of the reference to "the burden of reparations because of a handful of Japanese militarists."

Among the Chinese masses, those who suffered mightily in the war against Japan but had no say whatsoever in the process of normalisation of relations, deep-rooted discontent and mistrust remained toward the Japan policy of the central government. Resentment and hostility built up toward Japan that continued to slight the issue of war responsibility. The anti-Japanese demonstrations that raged in many parts of China in the spring of 2005, far surpassing any scale the Chinese authorities had anticipated, had their roots in this deep-seated contradiction.

For the Hu Jintao administration, no matter how important it may view its relations with Japan, it is virtually impossible to modify its stance of refusing to meet with a prime minister who continues to pay respects at the Yasukuni shrine. Especially so as the administration strives to realise a "society in harmony" by containing internal contradictions while increasingly integrating its economy with the world economy to sustain rapid economic growth.

Prime Minister Koizumi has criticized China saying "My visits to the Yasukuni shrine have nothing to do with the enshrinement of the war criminals" and "It is unreasonable to refuse to have summit meetings with me over a single issue, i.e. the visits to the Yasukuni shrine." The government and the Liberal Democratic Party also have defended the prime minister on the grounds that the prime minister cannot refrain from paying respects at the shrine because China said not to do so and that pending issues between the two countries will not disappear just because the prime minister stops visiting the shrine. These sound like inward-looking excuses lacking willingness and sincerity to mend relations with China. The candidates for the presidential election of the Liberal Democratic Party in September who are jockeying to become Koizumi's successor are hesitating to inherit the prime minister's logic and are trying to figure out a more convincing position on the question.

There is only one way for Japan to quickly improve diplomacy with Asia. The new Japanese prime minister needs to take to heart the recently disclosed wishes of Emperor Showa and to strive to prepare the ground for a Japan-China summit. He needs to engage in a sincere and honest dialogue on future exchanges and cooperation between the two countries.

The writer is former Chief Editorial Writer of Kyodo News Agency
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

福原亨一 / ジャーナリスト

2006年 8月 11日









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Emperor Showa and the Yasukuni Shrine