[FORUM]The cult of Yasukuni ShrineWhen August comes, so does the controversy over the Yasukuni Shrine visit that arises every year in the relationship between Korea and Japan. This year, there is a possibility that Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will pick Aug. 15 to visit the shrine. A diplomatic firestorm is brewing.
The biggest reason Koreans condemn the visits to the Yasukuni Shrine is that Class A war criminals of World War II are enshrined there. Paying a visit to pray for them is an act of approving the war of invasion, and therefore must not be tolerated.
However, if you think calmly, it could deviate from the essence of the problem involving the shrine. If we get too agitated by the minor details, we might fail to address the bigger, more substantial facts.
First, we have to make one thing clear. The Yasukuni Shrine is not a place to mourn the war dead. Visitors do not express their sorrow over the war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine. Instead, the shrine exists to glorify war dead.
The Japanese think that when you die in battle, you become a god and have the honor to be enshrined at Yasukuni. They are taught to believe that there is no better honor than offering up a life given by the emperor back to the emperor. This is the religion of Yasukuni. The dead soldiers’ surviving families feel pride. Japanese soldiers promised to meet at the Yasukuni Shrine as they died. The Yasukuni Shrine had brainwashed the Japanese citizens and drummed up war sentiment.
The purpose is fundamentally different from mourning. It is whitewashing ― that is, praising and glorifying the accomplishments of the war dead. It becomes obvious if you visit the Yushukan war museum in the Yasukuni Shrine, which praises the glory of the imperialism and the achievements of the Japanese army.
The achievements are nothing but the war and the colonization. Therefore, Yasukuni enshrines the memorial tablets of the soldiers and paramilitary personnel. The civilian war dead are not Yasukuni’s concern, because they did not contribute anything to Japan’s invasions.
The nature of the Yasukuni Shrine remains unchanged today. If we are to criticize the Yasukuni Shrine, we need to highlight the site’s imperialist character. The Yasukuni Shrine is not a purely religious institution. During the war, it was under the direct management of the military. After Japan was defeated, the shrine continued to receive state assistance directly and indirectly.
For example, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare handed over a list of the war dead, including war criminals, to be enshrined at Yasukuni together. In 1956, the Japanese government provided 4.8 million yen from the national coffer to help Yasukuni enshrine the war dead.
Mr. Koizumi’s Yasukuni visit cannot be considered a religious act. Japan has called the criticism from Korea and China an intervention in domestic affairs, and such a reaction acknowledges that the prime minister’s visit is a state affair and a highly political action.
We need to approach the Yasukuni issue by keeping Japan’s political intent in mind. We need to do more than demand the relocation of the tablets of the Class A war criminals. These war criminals are a mere symbol that reveals Yasukuni Shrine’s identity, not the essence.
Let’s assume that the Yasukuni Shrine decides to relocate the Class A criminals separately as Korea and China have demanded. Then, if the prime minister visits the shrine, it becomes hard to raise objections. It virtually means endorsing the purpose of the Yasukuni Shrine.
The Japanese rightists hope to make the prime minister’s visit a routine practice and then see the emperor visit in the end. When it happens, it will not be possible to stop the nationwide propagation of the religion of Yasukuni. In that sense, it may be better that the Yasukuni Shrine refuses to separate the war criminals.
There is another thing we need to watch: The Yasukuni Shrine is approaching the young generation of Japanese. Since 2000, the Yasukuni Shrine has been operating a history study group for youths. It intends to revive the sense of an imperial subject that has been loosened by democracy and economic development. In 1999, it created a program to finance research projects that honor the achievements of war heroes. The program reportedly wanted to help the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform.
It is a pity that the backward philosophy of the imperial subject is still nurtured in the second-largest economy in the world. It is a result of the lack of repentance for the war of aggression. At this point, no matter how hard the foreigners try to advise them, the Japanese are not listening. The only solution is that the healthy conscience of the Japanese citizens wins over the religion of Yasukuni. The Japanese have to find a solution, carry it out and obtain international recognition by themselves. If not, Japan cannot be free from the yoke of history.
* The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s media planning team.
by Nahm Yoon-ho