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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #348: May 25, 2006

Japan's Yasukuni Shrine Controversy

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Japan's Yasukuni Shrine Controversy
(Richard Halloran) Real Clear Politics


Yasukuni seems to have become one of the favorite topics of conversation a.k.a. pastime for self-designated intellectuals interested in Asian affairs around the world. To those with keen senses, the fact that the shrine issue has become so famous by itself seem to indicate casually that the whole pother may be driven by some (international) political motive, especially considering that the one making the largest noise is a society with very little freedom of speech.

The author of the commentary introduced above is one of the rare foreigners who could sympathize with the feelings of ordinary Japanese - the quiet majority. Not that he is easy on the Japanese or the country's policies. Some of his views are very tough for the Japanese to swallow despite often being legitimate. The comment introduced above is yet again of the author's display of good understanding of what really is, reflecting the ordinary Japanese people's sentiment.

There are, however, some small points to add which may lead to other discussions. In the article the author introduces a Japanese "publisher" who claims the "criminals" should not have been enshrined at Yasukuni for "they didn't die in battle, they were executed." This, however, is not quite the case. (The author merely quotes the publisher and has not endorsed the authenticity of the underlying fact, but being such a knowledgeable commentator with authority, he could have checked it which might have taken only a minute or so.)

There are a number of people who are enshrined at Yasukuni who did not die in battle. For example, Shoin Yoshida, a famous scholar who provided intellectual support to those bringing about Meiji Restoration, was "executed as a criminal" by the (Tokugawa) government at the time. And Shinsaku Takasugi, another big figure of Meiji era in establishing modern Japan, who died from tuberculosis at the age of 27, just to name a few.

Also, the often-mentioned term "war criminals" is correct in accordance with the view of the "winners" of the war. They were sentenced at the Military Tribunal set up by the winners, led by the U.S., after the war to prosecute the "criminals." True that Japan acknowledged the results of the tribunal as a part of the Peace Treaty to officially end the war in 1952, but the "criminals" were never convicted in Japan under any Japanese law. Accordingly, however it may be uncomfortable for some people, they are not "criminals" as long as they, and their names, remain within the jurisdiction of Japan.

Some in Japan claim that those who misled the country and the people into the war should have been prosecuted by the people of Japan, but the idea has never been pursued.

In any case, the issue of who is allowed, or not allowed, to visit Yasukuni, -- though it is very difficult to imagine a situation where anyone is statutorily prohibited from visiting there as Japan and its people strongly believe in freedom of religion and speech --, is strictly a domestic matter to be resolved solely by the Japanese people. At least this fundamental position is well recognized by the Japanese people including the politicians who oppose the Prime Minister visiting the shrine.

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