[FOUNTAIN]A criminal offenseThe Byakkotai, or White Tiger Corps, is one of favorite subjects of Japanese historical dramas.
The Byakkotai incident was a tragic event in the Boshin War, or “War of the Year of the Dragon,” fought between new government forces leading the Meiji restoration and the remnants of the Shogunate in 1868.
It all started from a wisp of black smoke that rose from the castle of Wakamatsu in the Aizu domain, where a heated battle occurred. When 20 young warriors of the White Tiger Corps spotted smoke from a hill outside the castle, they misunderstood it to mean that the castle had fallen to the enemy and they committed mass suicide. The warriors were in their late teens. One of the White Tiger Corps members who barely survived the suicide testified about the last moments of his fellow warriors. The deaths of the White Tiger Corps are remembered as the model of the samurai spirit and the paragon of loyalty today.
However, the members of the White Tiger Corps could not be enshrined in the Yasukuni Shrine because from the point of view of the Meiji government, they were traitors that stood against the Japanese emperor.
In 1965, a small sanctuary named Chinreisha, or Spirit Pacifying Shrine, was built in a corner of the Yasukuni. Surprisingly, the members of the White Tiger Corps were enshrined there. The sanctuary is dedicated to those who were killed by wars but could not be enshrined in the main shrine. Therefore, it is devoted to all the unidentified soldiers and civilian victims.
The most impressive highlight of the sanctuary is the foreign war dead who have nothing to do with Japan. Chinreisha enshrines those killed in the Gulf War, American soldiers and Iraqi civilians together, as well as victims of the Kosovo War. Of course, the shrine never asked the bereaved families whether they wanted their lost ones to be enshrined there. By principle, Chinreisha is supposed to enshrine the victims of the ongoing Iraq War as well, but it has not been confirmed whether the shrine has performed a ritual of dedication yet.
Yasukuni Shrine opened Chinreisha, which had been closed to the public, last week. General visitors can now pay reverence at the sanctuary.
The decision to open Chinreisha to the public was made to spread the spirit of cherishing allies and enemies alike and remembering all the war dead around the world. Then how can Yasukuni explain the enshrinement of the Class A war criminals in the main temple when they are clearly not the victims but the offenders?
by Yeh Young-june
The writer is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.