U.S. military told troops not to visit Yasukuni Shrine

Trip to war-related shrine canceled before Obama visit in April


U.S. military leaders in Japan advised against a planned visit by some of their troops to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in early April, before President Barack Obama’s visit to Tokyo, apparently out of consideration to South Korea and China, an American military source said Saturday.

U.S. Forces Japan headquarters warned against the visit to the controversial shrine by more than 20 troops, leading to the trip’s cancellation, according to the source.

The Shinto shrine honors past Japanese leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals, along with millions of war dead. Beijing and Seoul consider it a symbol of Japan’s past militarism and wartime aggression and bristle when Japanese politicians make state visits viewed as glorifying the war.

“USFJ did not instruct or otherwise order the group to not visit the shrine in April, but did offer some advice that the timing of their scheduled visit was not ideal. As such, the trip organizer elected to cancel the visit,” a public affairs officer for the U.S. forces told Kyodo News in an email.

Separately, a U.S. serviceman who had previously visited the shrine with a member of the Self-Defense Forces declined to do so again after the warning, the source said.

Obama toured Asia in late April as part of his renewed focus on the region. The trip was partly aimed at mending ties between Japan and South Korea that had been frayed by differing perceptions of wartime history and a territorial dispute.

A trip to Yasukuni Shrine by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last December sparked strong criticism from South Korea and China, as well as a soft but rare rebuke from the United States, which expressed “disappointment.” Abe’s visit jacked up tensions with Japan’s neighbors.

The U.S. military was likely concerned that a trip to the shrine by its troops around the time of Obama’s visit would be seen by Japan’s neighboring countries as implicit approval of Abe’s stance on wartime history, which some consider to be revisionist.

According to sources, U.S. military personnel have visited Yasukuni to pray and sightsee at the Shinto shrine for many years, though no written records of the visits are made public.

According to newsletters for supporters of the shrine, 25 members of a helicopter unit at the U.S. Navy’s Atsugi base in Kanagawa Prefecture went to view the shrine in 2005, while the commander of the naval air facility did so in 2009.

  • haneyr

    Unfortunately there are a lot of Americans who like to visit sites of the macabre and evil for the sake of adventure and not honor. Too bad these same insincere people refuse to visit the sites of victims of these atrocities.

    • phu

      Keep in mind, there’s also historical relevance to sites like this; I’m sure there are people with that kind of macabre curiosity, but I wouldn’t ascribe that to all such visits. I don’t think you meant to, just thought it was worth pointing out.

      I personally walked through a huge Japanese cemetery at one point; I felt a uneasy with the tourism going on (which was, by the way, mostly in the form of Japanese people taking pictures of everything), but the placards with information on the historical figures there and the history and atmosphere of the place were absolutely incredible.

      • Mr Gary L Powers

        70 years of Guilt is enough, Japan is the only world power who did not participate in the Korean War, Viet Nam, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine. China, North Korea were busy killing there Own people, By the Millions. Read a History book before You speak to Me

    • JimmyJM

      They’re tourists! Whether they wear a uniform during the day isn’t important. They go to Yasukuni (and everywhere else in Japan) not to pray to or for the war dead but to “see the sights”. Just as if you happened to be in the U.S. in Virginia and went to see Arlington. And believe me, if they had the chance to visit Nanjing, they would.

  • Mr Gary L Powers

    Japan has Every Right to Honor Her War Dead, Just as America and other Countries do. The War is long over and Germany, Russia China and North Korea have produced Many War Criminals themselves. People who Live in Glass Houses shouldn’t throw Stones.

    • Charlie Sommers

      Exactly! Even though the Confederate States of America were philosophically wrong on the slavery issue and lost the Civil War there is nothing wrong with visiting a Confederate Cemetery in honor of those who thought at the time they were doing the right thing and protecting their homeland. Robert E. Lee is buried at Arlington National Cemetery but people still go there to celebrate and honor our war dead.

      Many Japanese soldiers were swept up by patriotism during WW-2 and I’m sure felt the same way. There is certainly nothing wrong with honoring them.

    • phu

      The “people who live in glass houses” is a foolish proverb, stemming from the same sort of logical failure as “those who can’t do teach” and the more internet-comment “shut up if you don’t have a better idea.”

      Just because someone does something wrong themselves doesn’t mean they’re any less right when pointing out what someone else does wrong. If I beat my wife and then tell you you shouldn’t beat yours, does that make me wrong? No, it makes me a hypocrite, but my point is still valid.

      Critique of your logical failure aside…

      The Japanese should absolutely be allowed to honor their war dead. However, as a politician, understanding when that kind of action is and is not appropriate is part of your responsibility in representing your nation and protecting its place in international affairs.

      By visiting Yasukuni, Japanese politicians throw more fuel on the anti-Japanese fire that’s already burning all over East Asia. That is bad for Japan; there is simply no argument there. It’s not about whether Japanese should be allowed to honor their war dead; it’s about how and when they choose to do it, and how their politicians choose to do so in the context of representing their nation.

  • Eaton111

    Obama us such a wuss…classical example of leftist in America. Don’t worry Japan hopefully our next president won’t be such a douche. The Japanese have every right to visit the shrine. Japan today is a democracy, with a free press, and just important they are a US ally. The Chinese have no right to be critical considering they are still run by the CCP, which is akin to when Japan was run by a military government.

    Is Japan perfect, no…but who is, and this victimology nonsense has to end. The idea that the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, who had nothing to do with WWII have to keep paying for the mistakes of people who are mostly dead now is idiotic. It is frankly un-American, where we are supposed to, or at least at one time we did, judge people for who they are and what they do and not for their grandfathers actions (for bad or good). They also have to be allowed to respect and pray for their battlefield dead.