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For the sake of Japan’s future, stop glorifying past crimes at Yasukuni

Your Excellency Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,

It hurts the victims of the Imperial Japanese military’s war of terror that ministers of your government and members of parliament continue to visit Yasukuni Shrine, purportedly to honor Japan’s war dead. As you know, among the dead honored by the visits are 14 individuals convicted of war crimes for their actions during World War II.

[Unlike Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of the abduction issue, and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo, in April] you did not visit Yasukuni Shrine, but you paid for a Shinto ceremonial gift, bearing your name and title, to decorate the altar at the shrine. Thus, indirectly, you [indicated that you] approve of the Yasukuni visits by your party members.

What a contrast to the Dutch remembrance ceremony on May 4. The Dutch honored their war dead both in Europe and in Asia at the National Monument in Amsterdam’s Dam Square. Our new king and queen laid a wreath and paid their respects to those who died. Both were visibly moved. The former commander of all Dutch military forces, Gen. Peter van Uhm, reflected on war and the egocentric attitude of those who glorify conflict for their personal benefit. He strongly advised all to remember the consequences of war and its criminal aspects.

However, it appears that you and your party continue to glorify Japan’s military past. Changing the Constitution and marking the date the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect [marking the end of the Occupation, except in Okinawa] does not help Japan’s economy. It does not restore a sense of hope and determination for the future. In practice, it does the contrary: As long as Japan does not acknowledge moral responsibility to the victims of the war and their next of kin, Japan’s relations with the rest of the world will be strained and suspect.

You cannot pass this responsibility to yours and Japan’s children.

The leaders of Germany recognized immediately after the war that the German nation would never be trusted again as long as they refused to fully acknowledge their crimes during World War II. They paid their respects, and acknowledged and compensated for their wrongdoings.

Japan used the San Francisco Peace Treaty only for its own benefit, avoided its moral obligations and will remain haunted by them. In the meantime, Japan causes fresh pain to its victims with every ministerial visit to Yasukuni Shrine.

J.F. VAN WAGTENDONK
President
Foundation of Japanese Honorary Debts
The Hague

Send your submissions of 500-700 words to community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Max Erimo

    As the grandson of a digger who fought the Japanese in Papua New Guinea, I only have this to say,
    “(We) the allies dropped two atomic bombs on Japan which caused horrific destruction, injuries, sickness and death. The Japanese PM visits a Shrine to pray for the dead. Which is worse?”
    In war there are no winners although one side or the other will claim victory.
    I say to both sides GET OVER IT.
    The Japanese side play the helpless victim who was nuked without provocation, and the Allies and South-East Asian countries cry foul when Yasukuni is mentioned.
    The world has more important issues to consider.

    • Hitokiri 1989

      Wow, Shrine visit compared with the atomic bombs? Shouldn’t the more apt comparison be atomic bombs and the numerous atrocities committed by Japanese forces? Your statement makes it seem that only the Allies committed war crimes.

      • Max Erimo

        What I am saying is both sides in any conflict commit atrocities, not matter when or where the conflict is. The Burma Railway, the bombing of Darwin, Pearl Harbour, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, The bombing of London, or Dresden, Auswitch etc…

      • Hitokiri 1989

        Indeed, all sides commit atrocities. Its just that only Japan can avail of the moral equivalency excuse it seems. What about China and North Korea?

    • Murasaki

      My Grandfather also fought the Japanese in PNG and he always told me never to hate the Japanese the reason, like him they were doing a job.

      I heard the stories of how the Aussie treating the Japanese, most of the time surrounding Japanese were slaughtered on the spot as it was looked at as too much trouble taking them as POW’s.

      He said the allies were just as bad as the Japanese, and if Japan won the war it would have been the allies who would have been punished for war crimes and not the Japanese.

      People really need to go read up about Allied War Crimes in WWII, trust me you would be really shocked at what the allies were doing to the Japanese and Germans.

      Funny how most of the old guys who were part of WWII do not have hang ups with what happened during the war, the only ones that do were not even a twinkle in their daddies eye.

      I am a former Aussie Soldier now also and I have no problems with the Japanese respecting their war dead, I respect Australia’s so the Japanese should be able to respect their, no matter who they were.

  • ムニョス クリスティアン

    Netherlands and Germany feel “moved” and feel sorry for their past imperial crimes around the world??. XD Its all about money in the emerging markets. Disgusting!!. Western hypocrisy and cynism!!.

  • Jay Wilson

    What about the spitrits of those enshrined BEFORE the war? Are people not entitled to pray to them and to honour their spirits?

  • Akira

    The Japanese are not well aware of the religion in Japan, but it’s loosely the mixture of three religions: Shintoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

    Although Buddhism had not originally been the religion in which Buddhists worship their ancestors when appeared in India, because the Chinese could not accept the religion which denies the worship of ancestors, Buddhism absorbed this idea and “this” Buddhism was communicated to Japan. (If you are Christian, you might remember the issues occurred in communication of Christianity to China because of worship of ancestors.)

    When “this” Buddhism was communicated to Japan, the Japanese had believed in Shintoism in which prayers worship nature, ancestors, and even “devils” in Western sense, so it was easily accepted by the Japanese.

    I’ve written Shintoists believe “devils”, but don’t be quick. Because agents who evoke natural disasters, such as earthquake, tsunami…etc. are thought to be supernatural beings, the Shintoists have attempted to calm down those deities. Nevertheless, each supernatural being is not assigned any particular disaster; in other words, even if tsunami occurred, it could be evoked by a deity of Sea, or even by the soul of the deceased figure who had to put up with unreasonable destiny. (Sugawara no Michizane who has unreasonably been sent to Dazaifu in Kyushu is an example of this.)

    Another religion to be noted is Confucianism from China. Since Confucianism was suitable for shogunate, it became popular especially among samurai. Confucianists preach that the disembodied soul after death could come back to this world where his/her body is well taken care by their descendants, which means descendants are responsible for visiting ancestors’ grave, conducting rituals, etc.

    The reason why Japanese politicians visit Yasukuni shrine seem to derive from these elements shown above. Although people enshrined are war criminals, they are after all ancestors who are to be well taken care by descendants. Because footsteps of those ancestors have led to the Japanese prosperity postwar, Japanese politicians express their gratitude to them.

    However, Japanese politicians are not supposed to regard that Treaty of San Francisco sorted out every wrongdoing of the Japanese, neither are they supposed to regard that peace conferences with other Asian nations made everything clear solely with money and other supports. Because the Japanese are regarded to be apologetic, they are forgiven.

    Japanese politicians shouldn’t visit Yasukuni shrine with the excuses that it is the Japanese culture, religion. What Japanese politicians are supposed to do is not being pleased at the votes they can get from right-wing organisations, but to let the Japanese be aware what they did during the war as well as the fact that the massive number of ordinary people are killed with successive bomb-raids and two nukes. They shouldn’t mix up politics and “culture.”

    Finally, the Japanese online society is haunted with right-wing gestapo. They hate everyone who posts comments online unfavourable to them, but let me say loudly that as a Japanese I love Japan. I sincerely love Japan. Please don’t be quick to disgrace me. Forgive me for posting rambling comments in unreadable English.

  • 牧野宏紀

    First off, anybody who’s never been to Yasukuni doesn’t have the right to say it’s wrong for Japanese people to pay respect to their fallen there. Second, the shrine isn’t just only for Japanese military personnel who were KIA/MIA in WW2. There are 2.5 million souls enshrined there and they include KIA/MIA in conflicts before WW2, civilians who participated in combat and died, civilians who died in Soviet labor camps after WW2, civilians who volunteered that died (factory workers, students, Japanese Red Cross nurses, etc.), crew who were killed in Merchant Navy ships and exchange ships, Okinawan school children evacuees that were killed, etc. So to say these people should be forgotten because of 14 people out of 2.5 million is utter ridiculous. Third, the shrine itself doesn’t glorify or celebrate Japans involvement and/or actions during WW2. The environment there is filled with sadness and sorrow where you’ll occasionally see a Japanese veteran or civilian crying. There’s also a museum next to the shrine which explains what this site is all about. There’s also separate memorials (statues) dedicated to mothers who lost their child, animals (horses, dogs, and birds) that were killed, and Kamikaze pilots (which is such a sad event itself). When you finally leave there you’re not going to be saying “Hail the Emperor!” or “Nippon Banzai!”. Instead you’ll probably be speechless (like I was) due to the very sad and dark atmosphere of the place. It’s definitely not a place where propaganda is promoted like many westerners believe. Fourth and last, you wrote “…Japan’s relations with the rest of the world will be strained and suspect.” Really? Where have you been sir? Japan and it’s people are the only few who ARE trusted in the world. Polite, hardworking, innovative, well educated, healthy, organized, and many more. So please, stop saying these things. If you lost a family member to the Japanese I’m very sorry. I really am. Although please remember that there are Japanese who lost family too.

  • Roan Suda

    I am no fan of Yasukuni, but I am sick of seeing its admittedly muddled significance being distorted by Japan bashers…Whenever nations commemorate those who have perished in war, they tend to rely on feel-good national myth rather than troubling historical reality…This article reeks of hypocrisy. The Dutch were brutal, racist colonialists, who even after the war killed many tens of thousands trying to regain Indonesia. During the war, many Dutch collaborated with the Nazis, and many more passively looked on as Dutch Jews, a majority of whom perished, were sent off to concentration camps.