Trip to Yasukuni Shrine and Yushukan Museum, 7 Sep 2009
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
The Yasukuni Shrine, located in Tokyo, Japan, is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirits of those who died while fighting for Japan. Originally completed in 1869 to enshrine those who died in the Boshin War on the side of the Meiji Emperor, Yasukuni has since become a shrine for all those who died for other wars. It was formerly a state institution, but since the American occupation ordered the separation of church and state, it became an independent religious institution in 1946. Today, it enshrines 2,466,532 spirits. The shrine is controversial because 1,068 of those enshrined had been found guilty of war crimes; 14 of which were convicted Class A war criminals, such as Hideki Tojo, Iwane Matsui, Akira Muto, and Toshio Shiratori. Visits by politicians such as former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi only amplified the controversy.
On the grounds of Yasukuni stands the Yushukan Museum, originally established in 1882 to preserve artifacts from the Meiji era Japanese Army. Near its entrance stood several statues, including a statue memorializing the 5,843 who died while performing special attacks, such as those who crashed their kamikaze aircraft into American naval vessels. This museum is also controversial like the Yasukuni Shrine. Japanese aggression committed against its neighbors are described as liberation from colonial powers, and the start of the Pacific War is said to be forced by Franklin Roosevelt's political maneuvering which left Japan little choice. Finally yet importantly, the museum downplays certain events that cast negative light on Japan. For example, the Battle of Nanjing and the subsequent Rape of Nanjing, during which somewhere between 50,000 and 300,000 Chinese were murdered en masse, was described in no more than a few sentences, with stress on that General Matsui ordered his troops to obey military rules of engagement. Some of the more positive aspects of the museum includes the display of war machines (a Zero fighter, a Type 97 tank, a Kaiten submarine, etc.), last letters written by military men, and entire walls of photos of those enshrined. A special exhibit dealt with athletes who served and died for Japan, including a large display on Colonel Takeichi Nishi who was recently made famous by the film "Letters from Iwo Jima".
When I visited, I tried to keep an open mind as much as I can. The Yasukuni Shrine's architecture was beautifully stunning, and as I happened to have caught a ritual ceremony (I am uncertain how often it is done), I felt that, although some of those enshrined were deemed war criminals, some of the martyrs indeed deserve remembrance. The Yushukan Museum started out to be extremely fascinating, with me carefully studying every curve of war machines on display and every photograph shown on the walls. However, as I read deeper into the text, I began to feel uneasy about how the museum whitewashes, and at times glorifies, Japanese aggression against her neighbors. Seeing that Japan's blatant violation of my native country's sovereignty (the Republic of China, now located on the island of Taiwan after losing the Civil War of the late 1940s) by installing a puppet government in Manchuria as liberation of the Manchu minority from Han Chinese made me feel uneasy. I also noticed that the translation of Japanese text into English seemed to be selective, and that made me feel suspicious whether the museum was attempting to veil certain things from foreigners who commanded less-than-perfect Japanese language skills. As I left the grounds of Yasukuni, I felt that the visit was highly enjoyable despite being uneasy about how certain parts of history were presented in a rather biased manner. I could not help but wonder whether German or Japanese visitors to an American museum on the topic of WW2 would share similar feelings I had while touring Yasukuni and Yushukan.
Last Major Update: Sep 2009
Trip to Yasukuni Shrine and Yushukan Museum, 7 Sep 2009 Interactive Map
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Thomas Dodd, late 1945