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

Prime Minister Koizumi's Homage to Yasukuni Shrine
TADOKORO Takehiko / Toho Gakuen Board Member

September 16, 2001
This is an issue that causes a considerable headache for the Japanese. That doesn't necessarily mean I am opposed to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni Shrine. Honoring those who gave their lives for the country is a natural act not only for the prime minister but for all peoples. Prime Minister Koizumi's action poses a problem because of his apparent lack of consideration for the expected backlash from neighboring countries, bringing to mind a similar visit on August 15, 1985, by then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, after which no Japanese prime minister dared to pay homage to the Shrine on that day Japan surrendered in World War II.

Since Nakasone, visits to Yasukuni Shrine by prime ministers and Cabinet members have been diminished to meaningless levels, such as whether the visits are "public or private," or take place on "August 15" or not. This has made it more frustrating not only for Japan's neighboring countries but for the Japanese people as well. What has strained relations with our neighbors is the enshrining of Class-A war criminals at Yasukuni, but it must be noted that there was a considerable number of ordinary Japanese soldiers who willingly gave their lives for the cause of an aggressive war. Not all the war dead died "unwilling deaths," as is often said. I once asked the late Iwai Akira, former Chief Secretary of the General Council of Trade Unions of Japan, about this point, to which Iwai, a recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize who had experienced battle on the Chinese mainland, said: "the soldiers atoned for their deeds by giving their lives in exchange for peace." Memorable words indeed.

How should we then consider the Yasukuni issue, and explain to our neighbors, who were the victims of the war? I agree with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who said that "this is an issue not about persisting with the past, but about whether we can get along with each other with neighborly trust in the present, and whether we can walk together with our minds on the future, without fear of our tomorrows." Well then, how should we proceed?

Enshrining Class-A war criminals separately will not offer a solution. And as long as Yasukuni Shrine remains standing, it would be difficult to create a national cemetery. A Swedish social anthropologist resident in Japan has suggested the Japanese prime minister pay visits to cemeteries for the war dead in China and South Korea, just as then U.S. President Ronald Reagan visited the graves of German soldiers (Sept. 8 issue of the Mainichi Newspaper). While that is an interesting suggestion, in China for instance, there are Massacre Museums in memory of Japanese atrocities in Nanjing and Pindingshan, but no cemeteries for soldiers who died in the war, such as Arlington in the U.S. and Yasukuni in Japan. Aggressors and victims cannot be on an even footing when looking back on history that includes a war of aggression and colonial rule. The first step will be for Japan to offer a clear indication to our neighboring countries and the world, of its will to building peace in a future-oriented manner, based on a rational review of history including war and colonial rule. The next step is for each of us, not just our prime minister, to express Japanese views on honoring our war dead in a straightforward manner.

While mourning for the dead may be the same the world over, it comes in various styles. For example, there is a vast difference between the Japanese, who believe that "in death, everyone becomes a Buddha," and the Chinese, who believe that "a criminal will remain a criminal even after a thousand years." However, I believe that by communicating at various levels, instead of leaving the task to politicians, we can contribute to improving international mutual understanding.

The author is Toho Gakuen Board Member and former Beijing Bureau Chief of the Asahi Newspaper
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

田所 竹彦 / 桐朋学園理事

2001年 9月 16日





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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Prime Minister Koizumi's Homage to Yasukuni Shrine