[FOUNTAIN]The shrine still gratesThe meaning of yasukuni is “peaceful country,” but Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine is serving a very different purpose. The Shinto shrine in Tokyo is a symbolic battlefield of pride and friction between Korea, Japan, and China after World War II.
The Japanese justify Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to the shrine because it is a tomb of patriots and heroes of the country. But Koreans and Chinese say that the prime minister’s visits are a challenge to the spirit of world peace, because war criminals of World War II are among those enshrined there.
Historically, both sides have reasons for their convictions. Yasukuni Shrine was established in 1869. The royal court wished to commemorate and worship those who had died fighting against the shoguns during the Meiji Restoration. The shrine was originally called Tokyo Shokonsha until it was renamed Yasukuni in 1879.
Japan enshrined the war dead of World War II there and worshiped them as fallen patriots. The Japanese emperor personally visited the shrine and in effect justified Japanese imperialism. After World War II, the United Nations Command demanded that Japan turn Yasukuni into a religious establishment.
But Japan defined Yasukuni as a religious and civic memorial for war dead in its constitution of 1947, which mentioned the separation of religion and politics. Since the late 1960s, conservatives launched a project to make the shrine a temple managed by the government. In 1978, spirit tablets of 14 major war criminals, including the World War II-era prime minister Hideki Tojo, were enshrined at Yasukuni. In 1985, Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone became the first Japanese leader after World War II to make an official visit to the shrine. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi first visited Yasukuni in 2001. Yasukuni Shrine is not only the home of over 2.46 million spirit tablets, but also statues of kamikaze soldiers and a cannon from the battleship Yamato. Statues of the war criminals are displayed there.
Mr. Koizumi visited Yasukuni again on New Year’s Day, saying that he prayed for peace. If such deceptive, fancy words are accepted in Japan, how can its neighbors consider Japan a friend? If a German leader paid annual visits to the tomb of Adolf Hitler and said his intention was peace, international opinion would not leave him alone.
by Kim Seok-hwan
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.