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Sunday, July 23, 2006
Retired Yasukuni official recounts turmoil over war criminal question
Former Yasukuni Shrine official Hisao Baba, 81, can still remember clearly a conversation he had some 60 years ago with the top priest of the controversial Shinto shrine.
It was only a few years after seven Class-A war criminals, including Gen. Hideki Tojo, were hung in 1948 following Japan's surrender in World War II.
Baba asked the priest, Fujimaro Tsukuba, if Yasukuni would enshrine Class-A war criminals who were executed following the postwar International Military Tribunal for the Far East organized by the U.S.-led Allies.
Yasukuni was originally built by the prewar government to "honor and mourn" people who dedicated their lives for the sake of the state.
After a long pause, Tsukuba said the shrine would eventually enshrine them, but "probably it's impossible while we are alive," according to Baba, now retired after working at Yasukuni Shrine for more than 45 years.
"He said it is partly because of a matter related to the Imperial Household Agency," Baba, the former public relations official at the shrine and who now lives in Nagano Prefecture, said in a recent telephone interview with The Japan Times.
"I didn't know what the matter was at that time, but now I think he may have been thinking about this problem" mentioned in a recently discovered hand-written memo believed to have recorded the words of Emperor Hirohito.
The memo, uncovered and reported by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun on Thursday, rocked the nation's political circles because it indicated that the Emperor, posthumously known as Showa, stopped paying visits to Yasukuni Shrine because it enshrined Class-A war criminals in 1978.
The revelation that Emperor Hirohito's had antipathy against the war criminals is a severe blow to conservative politicians and academics who have defended them.
They have argued that the military tribunal, controlled by the Allies, ignored the colonial advancement by the Western powers and one-sidedly identified Japan as the only evil state that waged wars to conquer Asian countries.
Those conservatives put much faith in the prewar sense of nationalism, which was based on the Emperor system. Yasukuni has also long been an ideological foothold for such nationalism.
Emperor Hirohito himself, however, appears to have held a different view on the war criminals.
"Matsudaira had a strong wish for peace, but the child didn't know the parent's heart. That's why I have not visited the shrine since. This is my heart," the Emperor was quoted as saying in the memorandum written by Tomohiko Tomita, a former Imperial Household Agency grand steward.
Emperor Hirohito was apparently referring to Yoshitami Matsudaira, who was the Imperial Household minister, and his son, Nagayoshi Matsudaira, the Yasukuni chief priest who decided to enshrine the 12 convicted Class-A war criminals in 1978 along with two suspects who died before the tribunal handed down a ruling on them.
The younger Matsudaira took the post after Tsukuba, who died in 1978.
While Tsukuba was still head priest, the government submitted a list of people who died while on public duty, including those war criminals, to the shrine.
Based on this list, the shrine usually decides which people should be enshrined, but Tsukuba suspended a decision on the war criminals.
Baba said he understands Hirohito's apparent anger against Tsukuba's successor because the head priest was a "person with a strong temper," who "tried to ignore the Tokyo tribunal."
"He ordered us to call those (war criminals) 'martyrs.' I have questions about that," Baba said.
Shiro Akazawa, a professor of Japanese politics at Ritsumeikan University and an expert on Yasukuni issues, said the Emperor's comment in the memo is particularly troublesome for the shrine because, in the prewar era, Yasukuni enshrined those who dedicated their lives to the state only after the Emperor approved the list of candidates for enshrinement.
For Yasukuni at that time, the Emperor was considered tantamount to the state itself.
In the postwar era, even though the Constitution stipulates a strict separation between state and religion, the practice still exists and a list of those to be enshrined is submitted to the Emperor in advance, although officially he does not have the right to approve or disapprove any of the names.
"When we brought a list (including the war criminals) to the Imperial Household Agency, an official at the agency clearly said that (the Emperor) won't visit anymore if (Yasukuni) enshrines people like them," recalled Baba.
As Baba indicated, Emperor Hirohito, who had visited the shrine regularly to pray for people who died for the state, no longer visited the politically controversial site after 1975.
Emperor Akihito, who succeeded Emperor Hirohito after his father's death in 1989, has not visited the shrine since his enthronement.
Paying an official visit to the shrine has long been taboo even for top government officials, due partly to the fact that the Class-A war criminals are enshrined there.
Yasukuni is now directly in the political spotlight because Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has made annual pilgrimages to the shrine since taking the top office in 2001 despite repeated protests by China and South Korea.
Defying all criticism, Koizumi has said his visits are intended solely to mourn the war dead in general, not to show respect or honor any particular individuals.
But Ritsumeikan's Akazawa said Koizumi's argument "does not make sense" because Yasukuni was built by the prewar government with the specific purpose of "honoring" people who made contributions to the state, in addition to "mourning" the death of those people.
Asked about the impact of the Emperor's memo on the Yasukuni issue, Akazawa said it will affect the elderly and surviving relatives of the war dead, who are still very much interested in how the late Emperor viewed the war and the Class-A war criminals.
Yet Akazawa pointed out that repeated protests by China and South Korea appear to be pushing many Japanese people toward supporting the prime minister's visits to Yasukuni.