My visit to one of the most controversial places in Japan: The Yasukuni shrine and the Yushukan War Museum

Posted: December 6, 2011 in English, Wanderlust
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The Yasukuni Shrine was founded in 1869 on the order of the Japanese Emperor. It is dedicated to all the soldiers, that sacrificed their life for the emperor and the Japanese empire. At the moment there are about 2,5 million Souls (Kami) from men and women enshrined, that died since the Meiji restauration and especially during the World War 2. The Shrine enjoys a special status in Japan and is for example the only place where the Japanese Emperor ever bowed down, in order to show is respect.

In the 1970’s the shrine received special attention, especially in Asia. It was when the Kamis (Souls) of 14 a-class war criminals were enshrined in Yasukuni. During the Tokyo Trials these war criminals were  found guilty to be  mainly responsible in the planning and carrying out the Japanese War of Agression. The decision of the priests to not only enshrine usual soldiers but also sentenced war criminals, caused a huge international outrage, especially in East-Asian countries like China, Taiwan and Korea, which suffered the most under the 15 years of Japanese aggression.  But not only in Asia but also within Japan did the decision caused huge resistance and critics, which led even the emperor to stop his annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. Since 1978 no Japanese Emperor has visited the shrine. Japanese politicians however use visits to Yasukuni in order to get more voters and to increase their PR. Especially Ex-prime minister Koizumi (2001-2006) caused with his annual visits to Yasukuni nearly a complete halt of political relations between China an Japan and received huge international critics.

Of course I see such a place with my own eyes so I went with 3 Friends (2 Taiwanese and on Korean) to the Yasukuni Shrine. The massive front gate and the shrine itself are pretty impressive, but unfortunately it is impossible to get into the shrine. However there is also the very interesting (and also very controversial) Yushukan war museum.

“By touching directly the sincerity of enshrined divinities who dedicated their precious lives for their loving motherland, hometowns and families, you may find something precious” – Yushukan broshure

The museum itself concentrated especially on the history of Japan during the time of 1920-1946. Pictures, mapy and photos show the expansion and the conquest of the Japanese Empire in Asia. Furthermore are many different very interesting articles displayed: form the Uniforms to weapons and even tanks and Zero-fighters. Surprisingly there are many displays and signs in English language what is not common standard in a Japanese Museum.

As a foreigner and especially as a German I could see a very conservative and sometimes even quite nationalistic style in the Museum. While the focus in German museums lies on the victims and the atrocities of the War, the focus here is complete different. The quote already shows that the museum is dedicated to the Japanese Soldier, who sacrificed his life for something glorious, namely the Emperor and the Japanese Empire. The millions of victims, that died in concentration camps or under Japanese atrocity, are barely even mentioned. Also the use of language is essential different to the German counterpart. The invasion of China and other regions is mentioned as an “Incident”, a word that can be found everywhere in the museum. And the main reason why the Japanese went to China in the first place, was to restore order after bad anti-Japanese rebels were creating destruction and anarchy.

Surprisingly there is no room about the atomic bomb, but there is however a short film (unfortunately completely in Japanese, but you will get the mood) which start with little children playing with flowers and baaam: atomic mushroom cloud!

The Yushukan War Museum is all in all, very interesting and has a diversity of displays. However I got the whole time the negative feeling, that the way that this museum is teaching the Japanese past, is in no way helpful for the creation of a peaceful Understanding of common Asian history. I believe as long as there are places like the Yasukuni Shrine and the Yushukan War museum, Japan has a long way to go in order to earn the trust and respect of its Asian neighbours.

(There is also a small hidden Koi-pond , which is not easy to find but it is just beautiful and you can literately call the fish to come closer)

  1. Maggie Leon Garcia says:

    Woaa such an interesting story!! The gate is so beautiful!!! ❤ Koi-pond !!

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