Who said Japan is atoning?Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the all-time passionate nationalist, has again chosen to enrage Asia and the international community to some extent by paying tribute to the war criminals in the Yasukuni Shrine. In 2012, Abe paid a politically-inflammatory visit to the shrine as an opposition leader. The very difference this time is that he has pushed ahead with the controversial visit despite the strong admonition from the United States, Japan’s closest ally, that he refrain from paying respects there.
The shrine is a symbol of Japanese militarism and refusal to atone. True, numerous nations maintain war memorials. However, the Japanese shrine remains different in that the site is home to the spiritual tablets of Class-A war criminals directly responsible for all the atrocities of World War II.
Honoring them publicly means following the spirit of the war criminals. Such a gesture by a prime minister, the highest representative of the Japanese government, can never equal atonement; it only contradicts Abe’s outspoken will to observe the spirit of the 1993 Kono Statement, the public apology by the Japanese government for sex slaves.
Abe mistakenly considers that honoring the war criminals falls under Japan’s national tradition. But when those criminals inflicted an everlasting damage on neighbors, honoring the criminals is no longer a matter of national affairs; it is a matter subject to discussion and review with and by concerned parties. Wholeheartedly accepting that simple truth is the starting point of Japan’s genuine atonement.
*Editing adviser of Yonsei European Studies at Yonsei University
By Choi Si-young