A Shintoist’s Guide to the Yasukuni Controversy

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto is a policy analyst and part-time dungeon master. When not talking endlessly about matters of public policy, he is a dungeon master on the NWN World of Avlis

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69 Responses

  1. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    My instinct is that

    “Finally, from a purely nationalistic impulse, I find it rather risible to have criticism about militarism or nationalism from countries that as a practical matter celebrate some of the greatest tyrants in human history. Whether this is China’s criticisms despite their own veneration of Mao, or Russia with Stalin. Further, this seems ridiculous coming from Europeans or Americans, the former of whom celebrate colonial warlords with no sense of irony (from Columbus to Napoleon) or the celebration of Confederate war generals.”

    Will hijack the thread.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Yeah it will likely twist the thread away from all the other interesting stuff but that is only because it is very much a good point.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        it is very much a good point

        Wouldn’t this point be better acknowledged by someone from a state that has slaughtered fewer Inuit?Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Well let me handiwipe all the fresh Inuit blood off my hands first…….done….So is the only people who can make that point are those who truely understand FREEDOM and see how every government law is just turning us into future Kulaks…..point takenReport

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        So is the only people who can make that point are those who truely understand FREEDOM and see how every government law is just turning us into future Kulaks…..point taken

        Well, it depends on what country they were born in, doesn’t it?Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        I bow to your moral superiority Jay. I don’t understand your point, since i don’t know why an american can feel Nob’s point was a good one, but i’ll just assume your questions should, if i could only see, lead to the moral high ground.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Hmm is there a state that can throw such a stone Jay? If I’m getting your oblique reference correctly that is would we confined to… where… Iceland maybe? Nowhere in the western hemisphere certainly, not Europe or Asia generally… I’m drawing a blank short of maybe Iceland and/or Greenland.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I bow to your moral superiority Jay.

        Greg, you misunderstand me entirely. I’m not claiming moral superiority.

        Hmm is there a state that can throw such a stone Jay?

        I certainly can’t think of one.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Well, Iceland had AFAIK no native population prior to Danish colonization (by vikings!!). Then they peacably spun off into their own country and have had no real wars of their own… I suppose one could indict them for any wars that their Father country engaged in while Iceland was a colony? Beyond that their sheets seem relatively clean.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Perhaps we can have someone from Iceland point out what a good point it is, then.

        Do we have one of those?Report

      • Avatar North says:

        I don’t think we do, and unless they have an excellent command of english and Jaybirdesse you might have to walk them through it a bit.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      … Will hijack the thread.

      Clever, Mr. Gach. Very clever.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      So Jay if there isn’t a state aside from Luxembourg maybe that can’t throw said stones, then wouldn’t that be Nob’s point. That countries with long histories of killing lots of people then erecting big ol monuments to them shouldn’t be lecturing the Japanese. It seems like you agree with Nob’s point, i know i do. Are you suggesting that by agreeing with Nob, that is somehow doing something or other? Beats me at this point. Just say what you mean.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        It seems to be stacking the deck to set up a point where everyone on the planet has standing to agree with it but only people from Iceland, Luxembourg, and Madagascar have standing to disagree.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        And your point is? Agree with Nob? Can’t agree with what he said? or just a freelance argument for practice?Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Iceland, Luxembourg, and Madagascar

        Ah, the so-called “Axis of Pretty Good”.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Jay,
        Are you kidding me? Madagascar was the place with perpetual liars.
        (well, unless you /paid/ them to tell the truth.)Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Iceland, Luxembourg, and Madagascar

        Ah, the so-called “Axis of Pretty Good”.

        I’d include a couple of small suburbs of Chicago – Hinsdale, River Forest – in there as well. As far as I know, they didn’t slaughter anyone.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Nothin in the western hemisphere can get away with that except debatably first nations reservations.Report

  2. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I taught English in Japan from 2002-2003. My school was at Musashi-kosugi at the Toyoko and Kuji lines.

    Every now and then we would hear trucks blarring slogans and such. My students informed me that these trucks were run by ultra-right wing nationalists. They seemed sincerely embarrassed by the trucks and the sloganeering.

    Is this the general view in Japan of the right-wing sound trucks? Was I teaching in a more left-wing area? I did have one student who was active in the Japanese Communist Party. She was neat. Older, a psychologist and she worked in shelters for battered women.Report

    • Avatar krogerfoot says:

      My students informed me that these trucks were run by ultra-right wing nationalists. They seemed sincerely embarrassed by the trucks and the sloganeering.

      Is this the general view in Japan of the right-wing sound trucks?

      Yes.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      Well we all know those Kanagawans are a bunch of good for nothing moochers that take advantage of their proximity to Tokyo for their economic dependence…. but yeah, for the most part, people do treat right wing nationalism as something of an embarrassment. It’s something we don’t talk about, or try to brush off as an eccentricity than something that’s wholeheartedly embraced.Report

      • Speaking as someone who knows very, very little about Japan, I imagine that right wing has some constituency. Is there a possible “silent majority” dynamic going on? Or to Frenchify it a bit, do the right wingers “say out loud what most Japanese think silently”?

        Again, this is a sincere question born of ignorance and not an attempt to bait Japan as singularly right wing.Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot says:

        @pierre-corneille
        To live in Japan is to realize that Japanese culture is comparatively apolitical. Most Japanese people react to the antics of the lunatic right wing the way Americans do to the Westboro Baptist Church.Report

  3. Avatar James K says:

    This was very helpful Nob, thanks.

    So, based on what you’re saying these 14 Class A War Criminals are only “interred” at the shrine in a spiritual sense, rather than in the more literal way someone of European extraction might think.Report

  4. Avatar Kim says:

    Is the Emperor still the Head of the Shinto Religion?
    If so, could he not make a formal request for the 14 to be removed?
    (or, if not, could he create some way of venerating the shrine
    without praising said war criminals?)Report

    • Avatar Fnord says:

      I believe that’s been proposed before, and refused by the priests in charge of the shrine. De jure, religious freedom is part of the Japanese constitution, so the Emperor can’t force a shrine to do anything. The extent of his spiritual authority is less clear to me, but the imperial disapproval of inclusion of the war criminals looks pretty clear to me, and it hasn’t made a difference thus far.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Not anymore I believe. During the Occupation of Japan, the United States instituted separation of religion and state and officially got rid of the Emperor’s status as a divinity and High Priest of Shinto. Shinto shrines are controlled by the National Association of Shinto Shrines, which is an extremely conservative body.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      He doesn’t have the authority to push any decisions from the clergy, and more than likely they’d just thumb their noses at him anyway.

      The Showa Emperor was furious at the Yasukuni Shrine’s clergy for their decision to include the 14 war criminals, but his disapproval (which included a stern rebuke of the head priest for being disloyal to the memory of his father, who happened to be the head of the Imperial Household Agency during the war) had no effect on the shrine’s decisions.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy says:

    At the risk of exposing myself as wholly ignorant, can you give a in-a-nutshell explanation of what a Shintoist is?Report

  6. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Thanks for this, Nob. This is all fascinating.

    I’m most intrigued by an idea you sort of brush up against, which is this: How do we come to terms with what we all actually do, authorize, approve of, or at the very least turn a willing blind eye to in times of war, while at the same time mourn or even celebrate the victims of those same wars?

    This is probably just me being me, but the idea of just separating 14 guys seems to carry both a tacit approval of everything else that was done, and a declaration that everything monstrosity that occurred during that time period was just the result of a few bad eggs.

    It’s an incredibly thorny issue, and one that extends way past Japan to pretty much every other county and culture.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      there’s also the issue that by the shrine’s definition, they were (I assume) fighting for their country.
      Now, they may have brought dishonor and shame on their country, but does that mean that they do not deserve to be interred there?

      Should the Crusaders who slaughtered Christians enmasse be thrown out of Heaven?Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I’d like to echo Tod, this is utterly fascinating. Thank you for sharing it Nob.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      As a side-note, the actual “trigger men” of a lot of the atrocities are class B or class C war criminals, who for some reason, have not kicked up the same amount of fuss by the Chinese and Koreans. (Nor for that matter, domestically)

      I think there’s a different level of culpability when we’re looking at the “bad eggs”. There’s the bad eggs who were responsible for following orders and doing horrible things, which we understand and accept, and there’s the bad eggs who went out of their way to start and encourage war. Given the stigma attached to the very concept of being the aggressor in post-war Japan, at least, the Class A criminals are therefore guilty of a greater national sin than those who were fighting.Report

  7. Avatar tomtom says:

    I would be mortified if an American President were to go to a shrine or church run by Civil War apologists.Report

  8. Avatar krogerfoot says:

    Nob, in what way are you a “practicing Shintoist”? I’ve lived much of my life in Japan, and aside from actual priests, I’ve never met anyone who would fit that label. In fact, this is the first usage of “Shintoist” I’ve run across—that’s the only term I can think of, but I’ve never had occasion to use or hear it.

    Are you deliberately using terms that make sense in a Western/Christian context, perhaps? I’m curious.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      Part of it is in a context that a westerner might understand the notion of “being” part of a religion.

      The self-identification is definitely not something people in Japan ordinarily would use. In many respects Shintoism is so thoroughly embedded into the culture and identity of being Japanese, that in many respects I would even compare it to being ethnically Jewish. I realize this is a minority view, and I think this is something that’s stood out for me the longer I’ve spent abroad and noticed the spiritual nuance differences in worldview. Simply put, my viewpoints are Shintoism based, even if layered atop them are all of my accumulated life experiences and knowledge.

      I admit, too, that a fair part of it is also superstition. I carry magatama, I have a tendency to believe in kotodama, things like that.Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot says:

        Thanks for that. For me, too, spending a long time in another culture really taught me to see my own, as an American. (We Americans, we’re consumed by religion, one way or another. We hate to hurry. We love drinking, and other people’s drunkenness makes us want to fight.)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @nob-akimoto

        Does shintoism:Japan::Judeo-Christian principles:America roughly work as an analogy? I don’t identify as Jewish or Christian, but fully recognize how the underlying principles of those faiths are inherent to my worldview. I would never identify as Judeo-Christian, but I couldn’t deny their relevance in my life.Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird says:

    One thing that I can’t help but notice is the supposed belief that the souls are there.

    Is this something that everybody knows is fake the way that we know that the flying spaghetti monster is fake and belief in souls is a belief that only small children, the elderly, and some subsets of the right wing hold?Report

    • Avatar krogerfoot says:

      Is there like a “/badfaith” or “/satire” tag you could use on this question to clean up the formatting a little?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Well, it seems to me that if the belief that the spirits are there is a belief that is shared by most everybody, we’re best not comparing this to a visit to a graveyard but a visit to thousands and thousands of loved ones that happen to have 14 sons-of-a-bitch scattered in there and the emphasis is on “I don’t know how he would dare visit those 14 sons-of-a-bitch” rather than on “he’s doing his part to visit the thousands and thousands.”

        Of course, if the only people who believe in ghosts over there are the Duck Dynasty types, that changes the dynamic and it is, indeed, a visit to a shrine rather than a visit to thousands and thousands of ancestors.Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot says:

        @jaybird
        As a way for Americans to frame the issue, that’s less than useful. As a way to understand the Japanese, Chinese, or Korean perspective, it’s not even wrong.

        I used to hate it when people would say, “You can’t understand, because you’re not _____.” I thought it was a way to say “I can’t explain it, but the deficiency is yours.” Now I’m more comfortable letting issues be bigger than can be easily solved in a morning. The Yasukuni issue is comparable to the U.S.’s Second Amendment issue—the insiders have painted themselves into a corner, and the outsiders are baffled that they can’t just fix it.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        As a way for Americans to frame the issue, that’s less than useful. As a way to understand the Japanese, Chinese, or Korean perspective, it’s not even wrong.

        So the useful comparisons are to the Confederacy and/or Nazi Germany?Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot says:

        Look, forgive me if I was unfairly dismissive of your question earlier. If you are indeed asking in good faith, the OP, Murali’s post, and the discussions at James Fallows’s blog are where I’d direct you.

        Everything else I’ve written about it should have made it clear that I don’t think there are any handy comparisons to reduce the Yasukuni issue to.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      You know, given that 70 odd percent of americans are nominally Christian, I doubt belief in souls is confined to some subset of the right wing, small children and the elderly. Literal belief in souls is not always the best way to look at it. Religious obligation can feel just as binding even when one is a lot more agnostic about the metaphysics of the thing. This is in large part driven by existing norms.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        But this really isn’t being framed as “these priests are doing their job, this politician is meeting a religious obligation”, is it? This is something that the right wing nut politicians do to shore up their bona fides.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Jay,
        yes, this is some sort of religious theater, done for political purposes.
        Are we going to complain when hillary goes to a mosque next?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      @jaybird

      If only small children, the elderly, and some subsets of the right wing believe in souls, why do so many people visit cemeteries every year? Why is the funeral business such a big one? Why do the vast majority of Americans believe in heaven?Report