Yasukuni Shrine and Political Theatre


Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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23 Responses

  1. NewDealer says:

    James Fallows at the Atlantic has some really good pieces about the Yaskuni Shrine controversy. The geo-politics of this all are largely above my expertise but I am generally more sympathetic to the Chinese and the Koreans because of how they suffered during WWII.

    There are a lot of Japanese people who seriously and morally reflect on the damages that their nation did during the Second World War. Some of the best anti-war art and film ever made is done by the Japanese after WWII like the Human Condition, the Burmese Harp, Fire on the Plain, Grave of the Fireflies, Rhapsody in August, and others I am sure. Murakami grapples with the legacy of WWII in the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

    It is also my very shallow understanding that the Japanese always had a strong right-wing revisionist movement that sought to downplay their crimes during WWII and they never quite did the amount of reflecting that Germany did after the Holocaust. As far as I know there are no monuments in Japan that mourn for the victims of Japanese War Crimes. There are some very powerful monuments in Germany which seem to make the country constantly aware of their crimes during WWII especially against the Jews:


    That being said, many Germans are also tired of discussing the Holocaust from what I hear and read and want it to be buried in the past.Report

  2. Patrick says:

    Since US troops provide a big chunk of Japan’s defence, i.e. Navy and Air defence capabilities and treaties are arranged such that any attempt by Japan to build up its own capabilities in these sectors results in the withdrawal of US troops***. That means that there is no way for Japan to develop air and sea defence forces without an interim period of severe vulnerability.

    Caution: underinformed opinion.

    Eh, I don’t find this particularly compelling given the current geopolitical environment (of course, I’m not Japanese, so there’s that).

    I think that Japan’s desire not to untangle itself from U.S. military force support is probably driven far more by the pocketbook than by practical defense considerations.Report

    • Kim in reply to Patrick says:

      A year’s time is plenty to put their prototypes into factories.
      And make no mistake, Japan spends billions on prototypes.

      Why give up such a cushy deal, when it costs you nothing?Report

    • North in reply to Patrick says:

      Agreed, and now a legal question. The US, by treaty, is obligated to defend Japan as long as she adheres to her treaty obligations re: maintaining a state of disarmament. If a Japan, alarmed for its security and wanting to re-arm, were to inform the US of said intention and begin re-arming the US would then no longer be obligated to keep their forces within the country but could a sympathetic or supportive US not elect to simply remain willingly until the Japanese had completed their build up?Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Patrick says:

      I can understand why Japanese decision-makers (and the public) would want to eliminate dependence on the US military insofar as that dependence diminishes Japan’s autonomy and ability to self-determine courses of action.

      What’s weird to me, tho, is that Japanese decision-makers might believe the likelihood of invasion even registers on the “legitimate worry” scale one way or the other wrt pursuing the goal of establishing their own military. From the outside looking in, it just looks like Hatfield-McCoy type paranoia. I mean, even a casual perusal of current geo-politics is entirely inconsistent with the possibility of a Chinese invasion, no?Report

      • North in reply to Stillwater says:

        I couldn’t agree more. China is literally hauling itself out of the peasant age using ropes made out of international trade. Going to war now (whatever the reason) would be like cutting those ropes asunder when you’re only half way out of the pit.Report

      • Murali in reply to Stillwater says:

        Except that China is still technically at war with Taiwan and not only doesn’t acknowledge the independence of Taiwan, but pressures other countries into not doing so. China already has an ongoing territorial dispute with Japan. This is the Senkaku/Diaoyu Island dispute. Japan need not be threatened on a full invasion scale, but weakened military power can give China incentive to dispute and thus tie up other such similar resources.Report

      • North in reply to Stillwater says:

        I think you got cut off there Murali. You have a good point regarding Taiwan though I’d submit that Taiwan represents a kind of legacy conflict that predates China’s current more practical stance. I’m not suggesting China is being perfectly practical in these matters, a purely practical China would do and stop doing all kinds of things that our China is doing.Report

      • Murali in reply to Stillwater says:

        What I meant to say was at the end was that not all territorial threats are full on invasion and occupation issues. Having credible defence and threat capabilities can ensure that the other party plays by the rules and is willing to submit territorial claims to the UN and abide by decisions.Report

  3. Tod Kelly says:

    Thanks, Murali. More fascinating stuff to go along with Nob’s piece. It’s all bringing to mind a question I would love to see someone not me do a post on:

    At what point does holding a legitimate grudge against another culture/nation turn from being a justified hate or even just distrust to something more unhealthy for the grudge holder? Two generations? Three? More?Report

  4. Fnord says:

    It’s worth noting that those on the losing side of the Boshin War and the Satsuma rebellion are not included in the shrine, on the basis of their rebellion. The inclusion of the war criminals in the shrine is not merely a matter of honoring all of one’s ancestors, criminal or no.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    As someone with ancestors from Kentucky, where we called the Civil War “The War Between Brothers” (Kentucky was Union, but border, but Union, but border), there’s a lot of mixed emotion when you think about your various ancestors, some of whom wore the grey when they fought.

    To think that by paying them one’s respects is to somehow celebrate what they fought for an atrocity is to not understand what one’s doing. They’re the ancestors. Some of them fought for The Union, some of them fought for The Confederacy. All of them died but some of them had children first. One hears about someone’s great-great-great-great Uncle who fought valliantly or less valliantly or made it home or didn’t make it home and they’re part of your history.

    I’m glad I didn’t have to make the choices they had to make. I’m not proud of the decisions they made, necessarily, but neither am I ashamed of them. These are choices made by people generations and lifetimes ago. It seems as weird for me to turn my back on them as it would be to worship them.

    They’re mine, for whatever that’s worth. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today. To stop by and visit a gravestone and maybe place a flower nearby is not to make a political statement.Report

    • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

      But what does it say that one worships them, honors them, but does not honor the others?
      Maybe one does, one goes to all the cemetaries one can find…? (from my little understanding of Shinto, this criticism holds less weight with them)Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

        I get the feeling that the worship of ancestors in Shinto, though the word “worship” is used, is significantly different from the worship of Jesus in the West, though the word “worship” is used.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kim says:

        yeah, I think the word “veneration” is probably a bit… more accurate.
        Though one wonders if the Rice God is also “venerated” and not worshipped…Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

        I mean, I thought we covered this in Antigone.

        Are we now looking back and saying that, seriously, Creon had a point?Report

      • Murali in reply to Kim says:

        I seem to have missed that conversation. Link?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

        Murali, I’m making reference to an ancient tragedy. Antigone.

        The basic story is that Eteocles and Polyneices were brothers who killed each other while fighting on opposite sides in a civil war. After the War, Creon declares that Eteocles will be given a warrior’s funeral and Polyneices will be left out on the field, unburied (to be eaten by the elements and given no preparation for what is to happen in the afterlife).

        Antigone, against her uncle’s wishes, has some burial rites for Polyneices and she gets caught. There’s a very good (seriously, it’s awesome) back and forth between Creon and Antigone about why the world works the way it does… and he tells her to recant, apologize, and promise to not bury her brother again. She refuses. In a rage, Creon has her buried alive in a cave outside of town.

        A prophet shows up, calls out Creon for defying the gods, and all hell breaks loose. Creon’s son commits suicide, Antigone kills herself in the cave before Creon can let her out, Creon’s wife kills herself and curses Creon with her last breath… the stage is covered with bodies.

        Lotta good stuff in there. Anyway, I thought that the general consensus was that Antigone was the good guy and the debate was over whether Creon’s sin was Pride or Wrath.Report

      • Murali in reply to Kim says:

        Oh, I thought you were referring to our own commenter Creon CriticReport

  6. Kolohe says:

    Let’s not discount Japan’s military capabilities too much, esp their sea and air defense forces. The only countries that spend more than Japan on the military are all permanent members of the UNSC (and Japan spends more than one of them). They have first world equipment, first world training, first world logistic support, and first world command & control. The JMSDF is still qualitatively and quantitatively ahead of the PLAN (for now) (I can’t speak for their respective air forces). Even if the United States starting packing up tomorrow, (and would only go as far as Guam anyway), Japan is presently plenty capable of defending against a PRC sea or air attack. (not to say it wouldn’t be bloody)Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Kolohe says:

      If the PRC were willing to entertain the idea of an attack on Japan proper (ie, a real declaration of war), it would seem that the logical first step is to cut off Japan’s energy imports. I just don’t see the US deciding that they are willing to provide the necessary blue-water convoy support to guarantee delivery of gas/oil/coal to Japan from all of the various sources that Japan draws upon. After six months or so w/o those external energy resources, Japan will sue for peace.

      In some ways we would be seeing a repeat of WWII: at that time the US was the largest oil exporter in the world, and Japan viewed the US cutting off shipments to Japan as an act of war.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I give you the tanker war as an indicator on whether or not the US would provide support. It has been the lynchpin of US foreign policy since there has been a US to ensure freedom of navigation for any and all shipping worldwide (except for any given country we are actually at war with – hot or cold).

        The PLAN at present, doesn’t have blue water capability of its own to blockade or quarantine (or most anything else on this spectrum) the home islands of Japan. Plus, even as capabilities increase, the PRC is further constrained by the basic geographical fact that Japan is between PRC and the open Pacific, astride every single maritime logistic route. While the PLAN does have the capability to make something happen in the Strait of Malacca, it can’t do that without shooting itself in the foot with regard to energy supplies, much less every other country surrounding the SCS – who are already gravitating to Japan’s orbit because of PRC SCS shenanigans.Report