Plunge Pontificates

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Yasukuni and Yushukan looked at even more closely

As more and more articles are written, people finally start to find out the truth. The truth hurts. The truth is that Yasukuni and Yushukan are an abomination that should shame the average Japanese person and infuriate any nation that suffered because of her or had to fight against her.

"IT'S none of their business," Shigetada Maruoka says of Chinese complaints about the Shinto shrine where two of his friends, war comrades, are honoured. "Yasukuni is a matter for the Japanese."

The 83-year-old former Imperial Japanese Army soldier sits outside a theatrette on the first floor of Yasukuni's Yushukan war memorial museum, where he and his wife have just watched a patriotic film from the Greater East Asian War – the Pacific War.

It's the cry we hear time and time again. Why do you care? This is for the Japanese, it is part of our heritage, part of our religion. Yet, how can something so odious be left along?

The Yushukan, established in 1882, is Japan's oldest museum and stands just northeast of the Inner Shrine, the heart of the Yasukuni complex.

For those that don't know the difference between the two...

The Inner Shrine, a bleakly handsome structure with its interior curtained and dimmed by banners of mourning white, houses the souls of 2.46 million war dead from between 1868 and 1945 (or shortly afterwards, in the case of its most controversial spirits). Inside, their names, details of their closest family, military units and, where available, circumstances of death are inscribed on parchment forms.

But Yasukuni has an ideological as well as memorial purpose and that is met by the Yushukan.

The museum is the repository of a distorted, victimised and self-excusing version of Japan's modern military history that inspires contemporary ultra-nationalists – some of whom cruise the Yasukuni precinct in black vans with loudspeakers – as well as comforts those such as Maruoka who survived the sufferings of six decades ago. (emphasis added)

Wonderful explanation of what this place represents. I couldn't have said it better.

The article then goes on to talk a bit about the finances of the temple which are kept close to the chest. The names of those that financially support this abomination are kept secret. The amounts given rumored to be quite large.

Five million people visit the shrine each year, according to the public relations man, though Yasukuni's official website says "some 8million". But there's no dispute the numbers are substantial, or that many younger Japanese – for and against it – care deeply about the shrine's meaning.

5 million! 5million! Yes, I understand that they might be there because their ancestors are enshrined there, but for myself, I could never do that.

"What other former Axis country would maintain such a memorial?" demanded an exasperated South Korean diplomat recently. "None that I can think of!"

Exactly! Who else would honor their war criminals like this?

But Yasukuni devotees have a good case when they say how Japan honours its war dead is essentially a matter for the Japanese. Where the case falls apart is the history purveyed by the Yushukan, because Japan shares those painful experiences with countries from Russia to Australia, India to the US.

This year, on the way to celebrating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II's Pacific conflict, those whose compatriots fought the Japanese shuffle awkwardly around other remembrances: the incendiary bombing of Tokyo, the civilian slaughter on Okinawa, the nuclear devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Allies' popular war accounts emphasise less morally problematic events. But there is no equivalent of the Yushukan.

What are those excesses, those distortions you might ask. You might think that they really aren't that bad. Well, let's take a look, shall we?

The Chinese see the theatricality of Koizumi's annual visits, the enshrined war criminals and revisionist high-school histories. But the Yushukan gallery devoted to "the China Incident" seems a much worse affront.

The history text that helped ignite anti-Japanese riots in Chinese cities in April glosses the nature of the occupation of Manchuria and the Second Sino-Japanese war of 1937-45.

The Yushukan history denies shamelessly. This is its account of events after Japanese troops surrounded China's then imperial capital, Nanking, in December 1937:

"General Matsui Iwane distributed maps to his men with foreign settlements and safety zones marked in red ink. Matsui told them to observe military rules and anyone that committed unlawful acts would be severely punished.

"He also warned the Chinese troops to surrender but commander-in-chief Tang Shengzhi ignored the warning. Instead, he ordered his men to defend Nanking to the death and then abandoned them. The Chinese were soundly defeated, suffering heavy casualties. Inside the city, residents were once again able to live their lives in peace."

Nearby is a replica of Emergency Order No400 of July 8, 1937, issued the evening after the "Marco Polo Bridge incident" gave Japan its pretext for full-scale war on the Chinese. Japanese officers are advised "to prevent this incident from escalating, refrain from further use of military force".

The foreigners whose safety was guaranteed when the scrupulous General Matsui's troops stormed Nanking later told an international military tribunal of the six weeks of massacre, rape and pillage that followed. Between 100,000 and 300,000 Chinese, including many women and children, were killed.

The tribunal ordered General Matsui to hang. He was one of the 14 that the Yasukuni account describes as "those who gave up their lives after the end of the Greater East Asian War, taking upon themselves the responsibility for the war.

"There were also 1068 'Martyrs of Showa' who were cruelly and unjustly tried as war criminals by a sham-like tribunal of the Allied forces. These martyrs are also the kami (deities) of Yasukuni."

This has got to be a joke, right? For a far more accurate account of Nanking, please go here. Anyone believing the above should have their head examined.

But wait, there's more!

Australians, Britons and Southeast Asian visitors might mutter darkly at reminders of the Burma-Thailand railroad as a marvellous engineering feat under severe difficulty. That it was, but what's missing is the deaths of 13,000 prisoners of war and more than 90,000 "coolies" from Burma, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies from brutality, disease and overwork.

Among other problems, recounting the use of Asian slave labourers would detract from one of the museum's didactic themes: that Japanese militarism from the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 to 1945 was the engine of Asian liberation from European imperialism.

This is illustrated by displays at the start and finish of the museum tour: from Western incursions into Asia from the battle of Plassey in 1757, when a British force defeated a French and Indian army in Bengal, to the menacing return to Japan of Commodore Matthew Perry's "black ships" in 1854.

The end display shows 11 Asian countries occupied by the Japanese gaining independence between 1945 and 1960. Interestingly, Red China is noted, but liberated Korea – which was annexed to Japan for 35 years – is ignored.

I hope former POWs stay far away, the outright lies might be too much for their old hearts to handle. These are our allies? These are folks that learned from WWII? They've done a great job of hiding this outside of Asia.

Former emperor Hirohito stopped coming after the head priest of the time surreptitiously enshrined the 14 war criminals in 1978. Akihito is widely said to have no enthusiasm, hidden or otherwise, for Yasukuni.

I've always felt that allowing Hirohito to live after WWII was a mistake, I still do. Yet, the royal family shows far more sensitivity than others, far more so than those who should be the examples.

Again this year a proposal has been resurrected to take the political sting out of Yasukuni, especially where the Chinese are concerned, by "de-shrining" the 14.

Yuko Tojo, a granddaughter of the late general, last week broke the family's long silence to object and to recall why, 20 years ago, her uncle refused to sign a petition supporting the same measure.

"Japan didn't fight wars of aggression, only now China says so," she told a Tokyo television program. Japan only invaded China to protect its existing interests, she explained.

"If he had signed (the letter), it would have meant that we admitted it was a war of aggression. It was a matter for the whole nation, not a matter of individuals, so he didn't sign it." (emphasis added)

Back in the news again, despite how some would shrug off her words.

Some wonder why I keep harping on this and a few other things. It's because of these relatively few things that Japan cannot become the nation it should be. It is the reason that Japan cannot be the leader in Asia that it should be.

Pride cometh before the fall... Japan seems to have plenty of that.