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

The Need to Restore Reciprocity in Consoling the War Dead
NISHIKAWA Megumi  / Journalist

July 25, 2013
For half a year now, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has been engaged in an energetic round of summit diplomacy. What is conspicuous about his overseas visits is that the ceremonial act of "consoling the dead" seems intentionally built into his itinerary. Checking the Prime Minister’s daily movement in the newspapers, we find that in five out of the thirteen countries he has visited he has attended memorial ceremonies to lay flowers and spend a moment of silence at the graves of unknown soldiers and cenotaphs.
Abe began by visiting the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. in the United States in February and went on to pay his respects in Moscow, Russia, in April, in Ankara, Turkey, and Yangon, Myanmar, in May, and in Warsaw, Poland, on June 15. Surely, no other Japanese Prime Minister has attended as many memorials abroad.

Prime Minister Abe is perhaps trying to demonstrate that the act of "consoling the souls of the dead" should not be associated with any ulterior motive, political calculation or dispute. This is in view of the criticism Japan faces from China and South Korea, that paying respect at the Yasukuni Shrine, where Class-A war criminals are also enshrined, is tantamount to justifying Japan's past war.

In a memorial held in a foreign country, the Prime Minister bows his head as a representative of Japan in respect for those who lost their lives for another country - it is a solemn ceremony that takes place as honor guards look on, carrying the symbolic significance of a pledge to reconciliation, peace and amity. Yet, as I have mentioned before in this column (dated April 26, 2013), such a ceremony, which should be reciprocal under international protocol, is not held in Japan to mourn the Japanese soldiers who fought and died in war or civilians who fell victim to war. Foreign dignitaries visiting Japan have refrained from stepping inside the controversial Yasukuni Shrine since Class-A war criminals were enshrined in 1978.

In 1985, upon his visit to former West Germany, U.S. President Ronald Reagan took up the request of Chancellor Helmut Kohl and paid his respects at a cemetery for German officers and soldiers near the border with Luxemburg. As the date of his visit approached, it was discovered that the graves of Nazi SS officers were also located there, causing an uproar in U.S. public opinion and resulting in a resolution against the visit by both houses of Congress. President Reagan sought to balance his move by adding a visit to a Nazi concentration camp and cutting short his visit to the cemetery. I cannot recall of any other foreign leader who chose to take such a risk.

Japan should not leave unattended the current state of affairs, where visiting foreign leaders are unable to express their respects for Japanese soldiers and civilians lost to war. In former West Germany, the government designated the Bonn North Cemetery, where German soldiers from both World Wars are buried, as a temporary site where foreign dignitaries could pay their respects. After reunification, the Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Tyranny was formally established in the capital city of Berlin.

Japan should also create such a temporary site for foreign dignitaries, at least until some conclusion is reached on the Yasukuni issue. The Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery would be a candidate for such a site. We must restore reciprocity to the status quo, where the Emperor and Empress and the Prime Minister of Japan may attend memorial ceremonies abroad but visiting foreign dignitaries cannot return the gesture by consoling the souls of Japan’s war dead.

Megumi Nishikawa is Expert Senior Writer on the Foreign News Desk at the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper. This article was first published on June 28, 2013 in the morning edition of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2013年 7月 25日

西川 恵    ジャーナリスト









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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Need to Restore Reciprocity in Consoling the War Dead