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Wednesday, March 19, 2003


Political reality of Yasukuni


In his March 5 letter, "Yasukuni does not glorify war," Soutome Kikuo argues against assertions I made in my Feb. 9 article by saying that the "legitimacy" of the Tokyo Tribunal of 1948 has been "challenged" and that it is "common" throughout the world to visit a religious place to pray for the souls of the dead.

The legitimacy of the Tokyo Tribunal has no bearing on my piece. The point I was making is that current political realities have warped the Japanese public's understanding of the prewar role of Yasukuni Shrine. Before the Pacific War ended, the Emperor was viewed as a living god. Dying in battle for the Emperor was not only patriotic; it was considered a thing of beauty, akin to martyrdom. Yasukuni was the embodiment of this idea, and soldiers were comforted with the promise that they themselves would be deified there. Regardless of who was enshrined in Yasukuni, it represented the glory of dying for the Emperor. That is why some Taiwanese families have asked that the names of loved ones who fought in the Japanese Army be removed from the shrine. It is also why some people are more comfortable with the idea of a separate cemetery.

By saying he goes to Yasukuni to "pray for peace," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi indicates he doesn't understand the prewar purpose of the shrine. Soutome says former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone stopped visiting Yasukuni (in the 1980s) because of "what was going on inside the Chinese government." That was the political reason given; just as his previous visits to the shrine were carried out because part of the Liberal Democratic Party's constituency demanded that LDP politicians go there. I don't know Nakasone's personal feelings, but since he was part of the military during the war, he should understand better than Koizumi what Yasukuni stands for.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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