Yasukuni Again Complicates EA Relationships


It has been announced today that the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe has sent a ritual offering to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine today. Additionally, several major Japanese politicians, including a cabinet minister, have announced that they intended to visit the shrine this Friday. In the end, 110 lawmakers and their aides did visit the shrine and there they offered prayers to the war dead enshrined in the complex. The cabinet minister who had initially stated that they would attend was absent from the process. These announcements have caused outrage in both South Korea and China, and this conflict may complicate Japan’s relations with these two states. Prime Minister Abe is not a stranger to the complications caused by official visits and offerings made by important political figures, as he has made such visits regularly in the past.

This move is made even more awkward as Prime Minister Abe is currently in Milan for the Asia-Europe Meeting. There he was hoping to negotiate a later visit with the South Korean President Park Geun-hye, which may be more difficult in light of this event. Prime Minister Abe is expected to return to Japan this weekend, and therefore could not visit Yasukuni Shrine with his fellow politicians. In his stead, Prime Minister Abe sent a ‘masakaki,’ a wooden stick embossed with a prayer bound to a small, living tree to Yasukuni.

Yasukuni Shrine is a large religious complex in Tokyo where the spirits of those who had died defending Japan are enshrined and deified. In Shintoism, the Japanese belief system that has a pantheon of innumerable gods, an individual can achieve apotheosis through a great act or skill. Respected citizens have even gained the title of ‘living god.’ Yasukuni Shrine was founded over a century ago to house the spirits of wartime casualties and there are now several million individuals who are enshrined at the Shinto temple. However, among the list of the war dead honored at Yasukuni Shrine there also exist the names of several convicted war criminals, including notorious World War Two leader Hideki Tojo.

That many soldiers and officers who engaged in Japan’s expansion into East Asian and supported a vast colonial empire are now enshrined in Yasukuni Shrine is offensive to many individuals in Korea and China. Many, both average citizens and political leaders, in the two countries have lodged complaints against the Japanese government due to visits by Japanese politicians and officials to the shrine. Some families in South Korea have also requested that their family members enshrined in Yasukuni be ritualistically removed alleging that their ancestor had been unwilling draftees who died for a country they were truly not a member of. Officials in South Korea and China regularly cite Yasukuni Shrine as a symbol of Japan’s erasure of criminal actions during the Second World War.

However, several politicians and organizations in Japan take a different view. Many state that visiting sites like Yasukuni Shrine are not meant as a slight to their neighbors, but are simply acts of respect for those that came before them. There are also far-right organizations that claim that Japan’s actions in the Second World War were not criminal, and that Korean and Chinese claims to the contrary are politically or economically motivated to diminish Japan’s prestige internationally. While these groups are relatively small, they are exceedingly vocal.


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