War dead kin rally to laud Article 9, hit Yasukuni

by Shinichi Terada

More than 260 protesters and people who lost relatives during the war gathered Friday in Tokyo to stage a march to protest politicians’ visits to Yasukuni Shrine and demand that war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution be protected.

Politicians’ visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead, are regarded by other parts of Asia, including China and South Korea, as attempts to glorify Japan’s past military aggressions.

The protesters’ call comes at a time when the Self-Defense Forces have expanded their activities in recent years in support of the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Earlier in the day, the participants gathered at the Japan Educational Center for events organized by the National Liaison Conference of the Association of War Dead for Peace in Tokyo. They observed a minute’s silence shortly before noon to pray for the victims of the war, before marching near Yasukuni Shrine.

“We don’t want politicians to visit Yasukuni Shrine . . . we should not cooperate with U.S-led wars,” they chanted.

Ikuko Kumada, 74, from Tokyo, who lost her father during the war, has taken part in the annual demonstration since 1986, when the group was established to protest officials’ visits to Yasukuni.

Kumada said she lost her father in the war.

“I still clearly remember what he said when he left home: ‘It’s frustrating to go off to a war that we already know we are going to lose. I don’t think I will come home.’ It was really tragic to see him go,” she said.

“He left home and one month later we learned that he had died. I’m here for him and other people who lost their relatives. . . . We should raise our voices so this won’t happen again,” she said, using a walking stick.

Kumada is meanwhile concerned about the declining number of the group’s participants as its members age.

“Schools should put more emphasis on history education and invite us as guest speakers to pass on our experiences,” she said.

Masayoshi Matsumoto, 86, from Kanagawa Prefecture, who attended the rally for the first time, said: “I am one of those who experienced the war. I know what the country did in China and other Asian countries. Visiting Yasukuni Shrine is stupid.”

Kenji Isezaki, professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and an expert in peace and conflict studies, was guest speaker at a protest-related event before the rally and said Japan has the potential to prevent many wars.

“Japan is one of the big donors of official development assistance. Through bilateral relationships, Japan, with its war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, can give advice and contribute to preventing wars while providing development assistance,” he said.