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Following his historic visit to Yasukuni Shrine last Tuesday on the 61st anniversary of Japan’s surrender, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi spoke to the media. As usual, his comments had the bland quality of safely scripted pronouncements, but at one point he paused significantly: “I prayed for those who sacrificed for their country and . . . their families.” Koizumi, of course, was about to say “the Emperor,” since that is what Yasukuni is all about. It’s what it was built for, and in the context of the hackneyed phrase Koizumi was uttering, it makes more sense.

Even Koizumi can’t believe that all those soldiers thought they were dying for their families, since he also mentioned they probably didn’t want to go to war. They were sacrificed for the Emperor, the kokutai, the spirit of Yamato — whichever lofty abstraction you prefer. That’s why they’re enshrined in Yasukuni.

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