“Why do you want to come here?” my Japanese friend asked me as we arrived at Yasukuni shrine, a curious look in his eyes.

I wasn’t sure if I really had an answer for him. Yasukuni Shrine, if you don’t already know, is a shrine dedicated to the war dead who served Japan from 1867-1951. When enshrinement occurs, it is believed that all negative acts committed on Earth are absolved. Enshrinement is permanent and irreversible, according to the current priesthood at the shrine. The criticism that Yasukuni shrine faces comes from the fact that Class A war criminals (as convicted by the IMTEF in post WWII trials) are enshrined here. The war museum next to the shrine has also been accused of having a nationalistic approach and the Japanese government (whose officials sometimes honor the enshrined here) has been indicted by the Chinese, Koreans, and Taiwanese as being “revisionist and unapologetic” about World War II.

However (in the spirit of objectivity here), the trials by the IMTEF (which was comprised of the victors of WWII including Australia, Canada, China, France, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, the UK, the USA, and Russia) have been criticized “for using a method of information collection called "Best Evidence Rule" that allowed simple hearsay with no secondary support to be entered against the accused.” The criminals were therefore all released in 1958, giving many Japanese people a reason to believe they were not war criminals. Note also that “none of the victors faced trials for mass civilian killings in fire bombings of major cities, the mass deaths of non-repatriated Japanese soldiers, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Simply put, the trials by the IMTEF were considered biased. However, no one disagreed that there were many terrible atrocities committed during the war.

Controversy surrounding Yasukuni shrine also revolves around the Yushukan War Museum sitting beside it. Yushukan shows a documentary to museum visitors that shows Japan’s conquest of East Asia before WWII as “an effort to save the region from the imperial advances of the colonial Western powers. Displays portray Japan as a victim of foreign influence, especially Western undermining of trade. Critics say the museum fails to portray any atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army. On the invasion of Nanking, the museum omits any mention of the massacre and states that "General Iwane Matsui observed military rules to the letter. The Japanese established a safety zone for Chinese civilians and made a special effort to protect historical and cultural sites. Inside the city, residents were once again able to live their lives in peace.”

I had been to an exhibition on the Nanking Massacre in London a couple of years and the information about it was night and day from what I had seen at Yushukan. Of course, bias occurs everywhere and history has certainly been rewritten before. However, knowing the truth about history is important; it helps prevent misunderstandings and prejudices, and it inspires us to prevent our past mistakes. Isn’t that worth more than pride?


 


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