text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
Every country has a place that honors the people who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend it; this place is always sacred in a very particular way and the country’s people, whether they had relatives who died with its flag in their hand or not, often visit it and dedicate to the memory of the (usually thousands) of dead symbolically buried there a flower, a prayer or a thought. Japan couldn’t be different but as it usually happens in this land of contradictions its own such place (actually, its most famous such place), Yasukuni Jinja (靖国神社) or “Yasukuni Shrine” in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, has a historical and cultural peculiarity since in it there are enshrined some very controversial figures: fourteen people who were tried and convicted as war criminals in the International Military Tribunal of the Far East in 1946-147.
From 1979, when the fact of the enshrinement of the fourteen “Showa Junansha” (昭和殉難者), the “martyrs of the Showa period” was revealed to the media (it had happened in a secret ceremony one year earlier, something that helped create sensation) Yasukuni Jinja has become one of the most thorny elements of Japan’s international politics. And things became worse in 1985 when then prime minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone paid an official visit to the shrine, justifying in the eyes of the rest of Eastern Asia the actions of the governments ruling the country during the years of the “Pacific War”, the one the rest of the world calls “Second World War”. Since then, every visit of a politician (and especially a prime minister) to Yasukuni is a source for countless irate statements from all the countries (and they are not few) who confronted Japan in the period 1926-1945.
I went t Yasukuni on a hot July afternoon with the cicadas howling hysterically on the trees of the park surrounding the shrine, the Yusukan war museum with its own version of the facts from that controversial era and the monuments for the widows and orphans of the war, the kamikaze pilots, the soldiers, the horses, the carrier pigeons and the dogs who gave their life for Japan. Visitors were few –hardcore nationalists, passing couples who came in looking for some cool, sarariman choking in their suits and ties and some elderly people who had personal reasons to be there- the sellers on the souvenir stalls were gossiping drinking cold coffee and the father of modern Japanese army Omura Masujiro (1824-1969) was gazing Tokyo from his pedestal. The serenity was imposing…
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.