Resolving Yasukuni Problem Means Challenging Past Lies

by 岡崎久彦 on 2005年2月 6日

I would like to make a proposal that I am well aware will incur, at least for the present, strong and negative reactions from both the right and the left.

This, however, is not the first time that I have made the proposal. When asked in 2004 to write a message for a civic movement calling for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to visit Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15, the anniversary of the end of World War II, I wrote a piece to the same effect. The organizers of the movement acquiesced to my skepticism about the wisdom of a prime minister visiting Yasukuni on Aug. 15.

My point is that the prime minister as head of the Japanese government should make an official visit to the shrine either during the shrine’s ordinary annual festivals in spring or autumn.

This, of course, is not my personal opinion alone: For 25 years after the war, successive prime ministers–from Shigeru Yoshida to Kakuei Tanaka–plus the successor to Tanaka, Takeo Miki, when he made his first visit to the shrine as prime minister in April 1975, visited the shrine in their official capacity mainly during its annual festivals, completely free from criticism either at home or abroad.

It was Miki, a politician notorious among the postwar leaders for his exceptionally opportunist and populist political style–he famously took an irresponsible “peace at any cost” position–who interrupted the practice.

Many measures adopted by Miki while in office, including limiting the defense budget to no more than 1 percent of the gross national product and strangling the national security policy, remained uncorrected in subsequent administrations. Two other measures enforced by Miki that have yet to be rec tified include a three-point ban on exporting weapons, which it appears will be reviewed in the near future, and the prime minister’s visit to the shrine being made in a “private capacity.”

A lay account connected to this explains that the Emperor cannot afford to visit the shrine because enshrined there are convicted Class-A war criminals. In addition, it has been falsely claimed that Emperor Showa was offended at the decision to enshrine the souls of Class-A war criminals in Yasukuni together with others killed in the wars of the Meiji, Taisho and Showa eras (1868-1989).

As reliable documents show, Emperor Showa defended those held responsible for war crimes, saying they were “among my subjects whom I trusted.” Judging from this, Emperor Showa could not have been opposed to having the souls of the Class-A war criminals jointly enshrined in Yasukuni with the other war dead.

In fact, Emperor Showa was forced to stop paying visits to the shrine after Miki used the term “private visit,” when he visited it on Aug. 15, 1975. Miki’s differentiation led to arguments over whether the Emperor’s visit could ever be considered “private,” making a royal visit to the shrine disputable and, consequently, impossible.

The decision to enshrine the souls of the Class-A war criminals in Yasukuni came during the administration of Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, which followed that of Miki’s, so Emperor Showa’s decision to stop visiting the shrine had nothing to do with the enshrining of the souls of the wartime leaders.

Assertions that China began protesting Yasukuni visits by Japanese political leaders after the Class-A criminals were enshrined also are false.

Even after the enshrining, China did not protest the visits to the shrine by Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira and Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki, nor the first two by Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone.

It was in 1985–when Nakasone made his third visit to the shrine–that China began to protest the prime minister’s visits to Yasukuni. Nakasone at that time had just declared his aim of “ending Japan’s postwar period.”

What is Yasukuni for?

Why did Miki visit the shrine on Aug. 15, 1975?

It is unnecessary to quote what Miki actually said about Yasukuni. It is rather easy to guess why he visited: Visiting the shrine on the anniversary of the end of World War II was designed to express repentance over the war and to reiterate the government’s renunciation of war.

These motives, however, are at odds with the traditional spirit of visiting Yasukuni Shrine.

The purpose of a visit to the shrine is to offer thanks to those who gave their lives to protect the country they loved, expressing resolve to act in accordance with their wishes and praying for the repose of their noble souls.

Making a statement often referred to in commemorative events of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, to the effect that we “will never repeat the mistakes of the past,” is tantamount to telling the noble souls enshrined in Yasukuni that they died “in vain.”

This is why I was skeptical from the beginning about Miki’s visit to the shrine, not during its spring or autumn festival, but on Aug. 15.

The general public, however, did not understand Miki’s Aug. 15 visit in that way.

The bereaved families of the dead of the last war, in particular, were deeply impressed with the prime minister’s visit to the shrine on the anniversary of the end of World War II. The result was that the Aug. 15 prime ministerial visit became popular with a great number of people. Nakasone’s Aug. 15, 1985, visit was in accordance with the surge of this sentiment among the public, and his visit was in line with his pet theme of overhauling Japan’s postwar systems.

I am not opposed to the idea of a prime minister visiting the shrine on Aug. 15.

But I do have reservations. This is because I believe the visit to Yasukuni by a prime minister should not become obscured by the fog of postwar pacifism, which serves only to blur the purposes for which a visit to Yasukuni is made.

The visit instead should be made explicitly to pay homage to the noble souls of those who offered their lives with purity of heart for the sake of the motherland, including the kamikaze suicide commandos.

Given that China has persistently meddled in this country’s politics using the Yasukuni issue, which is a domestic matter, pure and simple–even to the extent of exerting pressure on Japanese business–Japan as a sovereign state should not yield to such interference.

So, in the event of Koizumi being determined to visit the shrine on Aug. 15, I will be sure to support him.

But the problem remains that Aug. 15 is a date that unavoidably brings up controversy over Japan’s conduct in World War II.

Product of irresponsible trickery

Notable in this connection is the fact that the so-called historical issues concerning Japan’s conduct before and during World War II ceased to be of international interest around 1980, one generation after the war’s end, in a way similar to other incidents of world history.

For example, in 1980, no newspapers, magazines or academic publications in Japan, China, South Korea or the United States featured any analyses or commentary pieces on Japan’s wartime history.

Scrutinizing the process through which historical issues were artificially dragged up has exposed that every one of them–say, the history textbook ruckus that flared up in 1982 and the argument over the enslavement of comfort women by the Imperial military–was initially fermented without exception by nasty trickery at the hands of antigovernment Japanese or scatterbrains swayed by leftist ideological fads.

One correct idea in the face of this situation would be for the prime minister to continue visiting the shrine without regard for anti-Yasukuni sentiment, which, having been artificially brewed, is likely to vanish sooner or later.

But problems concerning international relations remain, irrespective of the fact that they originated through the irresponsible trickery of certain Japanese.

They were amplified by the freedom of speech that emerged in South Korea in 1988 and by surges in Chinese official patriotic movements in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident. Historical issues have exacerbated anti-Japanese sentiment in both countries, and today’s political reality thus shackles both the South Korean and Chinese governments.

Memories of the last war apparently die hard and are easily reignited even after being smothered–unless they were interrupted by another war. There have been no major military engagements between Japan or China since the end of World War II, though the two fought and won the Cold War.

Efforts to isolate the Yasukuni problem from polemics on Japan’s actions in fighting World War II deserve attention.

Yasukuni Shrine exists not only for the sake of the souls of the war dead from the last world war. The shrine also is consecrated to the noble souls of those who died in all wars Japan waged, including the Russo-Japanese War at the beginning of the 20th century.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Japan’s victory in the 1904-5 Russo-Japanese War.

Our lives owe much to the endeavors of our ancestors, who gallantly fought the war against Russia in the midst of an age of imperialism, and successfully prevented Japan from being plunged into the status of a colony or under semicolonial conditions.

Shouldn’t the prime minister ponder the wisdom of paying a visit either to the shrine’s annual spring or autumn festivals to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Russo-Japanese War?

No room for Chinese objection

There can be no room at all for China to object to the prime minister’s visits for this purpose. In the eyes of Russia, the war is just a bygone event before the two world wars and the Cold War, that has passed into history.

Though it may be just a dream, why not invite Chinese President Hu Jintao to Japan on that occasion to visit Yasukuni with Koizumi? All problems between Japan and China could be settled.

Of course, China was plagued with the yoke of imperialism for a further 50 years after the Russo-Japanese War. However, if Japan had failed to win the Russo-Japanese War, Manchuria would have certainly been annexed by the USSR, at least until its collapse.

In addition, the triumph of Japan against Caucasians in the Russo-Japanese War greatly encouraged Chinese in Japan in those days to serve as the decisive driving force of the 1911-12 Chinese Revolution. Sun Yatsen, the revolutionary leader, said in reminiscence, “It was just the time when a China Revolution Alliance meeting came true in Tokyo in the autumn of 1905 that I, for the first time, was convinced that the great task of revolution would be accomplished in my lifetime.”

I want to see someone–not a man like me, but someone known to be a Sino-phile–step forward with such proposals for resolving the Yasukuni problem. I looked for some pro-Chinese figures to cooperate, but they unfortunately were unavailable. I therefore have dared to write here, hoping the Chinese government as well as pro-Chinese Japanese will listen to me with an open mind.