Small Wars Journal

Japan’s Burden of History: Understanding the Controversy of Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine

Mon, 08/31/2015 - 12:30pm

Japan’s Burden of History: Understanding the Controversy of Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine

Giuseppe A. Stavale


Japan’s relations with regional neighbors have been handicapped for decades due to events that occurred 70 years ago.  The so-called “history problem” sums-up the friction that lies between Japan and its neighbors.  Specifically, the two Koreas and China have habitually accused Japan of not being contrite and failing to reconcile with the past, which is marked with aggression, colonialism, and atrocities on civilian populations.  Japan’s neighbors point to insincere remarks consistently made by Japanese politicians regarding Japan’s use of “comfort women” (forced prostitution), inaccurate or incomplete versions of history in Japanese school text books which has the tendency of depicting Japan as a victim in World War II, and among other things visits by high-ranking Japanese elected officials, specifically the prime minister, to the Yasukuni Shrine as proof that Japan still has not changed and therefore still poses a threat to peace and stability in the region.

By examining Japan’s history and culture, this paper seeks to understand why the Yasukuni Shrine burdens Japan’s relationship particularly with the Republic of Korea (ROK) and China.  Knowing and understanding this aspect of the “history problem” between Japan and its neighbors will act as a social radar[i] and assist U.S. forces in navigating through sensitive issues and adopt effective positions towards managing alliances and U.S. interests in Northeast Asia.  Having more than a veneer understanding of the controversy surrounding the Yasukuni Shrine will assist U.S. commanders in strengthening the U.S.-ROK-Japan partnership and will better assist U.S. forces in gauging and mitigating China’s use of this “history problem” in its Phase Zero actions which tends to discredit Japan.  

As the world increasingly becomes more multi-polar and U.S. interests and relations become more complicated, U.S. alliance managers and policy-makers must be sensitive and knowledgeable of the history and the related strong emotions involving allies and partners.  Maturing the U.S.-ROK-Japan tri-lateral partnership is a goal all three nations have in common which is based on shared democratic values.  This goal however, can be complicated by misunderstood or one-sided views of emotionally-charged issues such as the Yasukuni Shrine.  Regardless of what superficial actions political figures may deem necessary to make in order to assuage popular views and opinions vis-à-vis this shrine, dialogue and communication between stakeholders responsible for defense and security must remain effective.  As such, the common-denominator in this tri-lateral relationship is the bilateral alliances the United States has with both nations.  Not taking sides’ vis-à-vis this shrine and respecting views but also the culture of a sovereign nation is important, being ignorant of such explosive issues will invite misbehavior and perhaps insult, especially should certain tri-lateral activities occur in certain locations during certain anniversaries.  Furthermore, as the U.S. government searches for ways to better approach China and maintain a stable Asia-Pacific region, we should refrain from taking positions that may alienate our long-time partner—Japan, and not reject nor attempt to suggest change to the Japanese culture.  Taking such a path will only expand the riff to include the United States and make it difficult for U.S. officials to visit Yasukuni Shrine which will then open the United States to criticism that America has not gotten over World War II.

Haiden or “The Offering Hall”

Japan’s relations with its neighbors have been handicapped for decades due to events that occurred 70 years ago.  The so-called “history problem” sums-up the friction that lies between Japan and its neighbors.  Specifically, the two Koreas and China have habitually accused Japan of not being contrite and failing to reconcile with the past, which is marked with aggression, colonialism, and atrocities on civilian populations.  Japan’s neighbors point to insincere remarks consistently made by Japanese politicians regarding Japan’s use of “comfort women” (forced prostitution), inaccurate or incomplete versions of history in Japanese school text books which has the tendency of depicting Japan as a victim in World War II, and among other things visits by high-ranking Japanese elected officials, specifically the prime minister, to the Yasukuni Shrine as proof that Japan still has not changed and therefore still poses a threat to peace and stability in the region.

As U.S. forces continue to mature the U.S.-ROK-Japan relationship, understanding the friction points that exist between the ROK and Japan is useful when attempting to plan and coordinate for successful tri-lateral events aimed at creating interoperability and deterrence.  The “history problem” has the ability to influence the social and political environment and restrain ROK and Japanese forces from participating in events that would otherwise benefit common security interests.  If the political environment becomes too corrosive to publicly promote a stronger tri-lateral partnership due to this or other “history problems,” U.S. forces are in a position to keep communication open and find common-ground to build-on and mitigate any actions adversaries might undertake to divide this tri-lateral relationship.

Facts, Shrine Origins, and Shinto

There are no human remains at Yasukuni Shrine, it is not a cemetery.  Shinto shrines do not handle human remains, instead Buddhist temples and adjacent grounds are used to handle the dead in Japan.  Japan does in fact have a national cemetery located near Yasukuni Shrine which will be addressed in further detail below.  Yasukuni Shrine is not owned nor operated by the government.  By-and-large, this Shinto shrine would not be a problem for neighboring countries if 14 World War II Class-A war criminals were not enshrined there.[ii]  Aggravating this fact for Japan’s neighbors is the tradition of sitting Japanese prime ministers visiting the shrine, usually on or about August 15, which is Memorial Day in Japan.[iii]  As such, it is customary on this date for Japanese to visit local shrines and temples to pray for ancestors lost in past conflicts.  The Yasukuni Shrine, in the heart of Tokyo, draws huge crowds on this date as it is commonly recognized as the central Shinto shrine to honor Japanese nationals who lost their lives in past conflicts while in the service to their country.[iv]  In this context, it is understandable that Japanese political leaders have expressed interest in visiting the shrine to pay their respects, as this is a typical custom performed and expected by political leaders during similar national holidays in various countries, to include the United States.  However, the fact that Class-A war criminals are venerated at all and that high ranking visits continued after their enshrinement draws the scorn of Japan’s neighbors.  The Japanese public is split on the high-ranking visits with views leaning towards striking a balance to empathize with legitimate concerns of regional neighbors and the ability to exercise their sovereign right to commemorate the war dead based on Japanese tradition and culture.[v]

The origins of the shrine can be traced to Commodore Matthew Perry’s “opening” of Japan in 1854 which threw the country into political unrest and civil war.  After the Japanese civil war (Boshin Civil War) ended in 1869 and the emperor firmly in power, he ordered the construction of the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo in honor of the soldiers who fought and died in the service of Japan.  Originally, the shrine did not have official Shinto shrine status and was known as Tokyo Shokonsha which means, “the shrine to which the divine spirits of those who have made the great sacrifice are invited,”[vi] and 3,588 Imperial Army soldiers were enshrined there.  In 1879 the emperor renamed the shrine Yasukuni Shrine and it also gained official Shinto shrine status.  The word “Yasukuni” translates to “peaceful country.”  Currently, there are over 2,466,000 spirits or deities from all wars involving Japan since the Boshin Civil War who are honored at Yasukuni Shrine, of which about 57,000 are women. 

To understand the function and purpose of this shrine and other Shinto shrines, a basic comprehension of the Shinto religion is required.  Although a majority of Japanese observe both Shinto (Way of the god) and Buddhism,[vii] due to the 1946 U.S. authored “Peace Constitution” Japan does not have an official state religion.[viii]  However, Shinto was Japan’s official religion in the past.  As a result, there are many ancient Shinto shrines in Japan and the religion’s traditions have been woven into Japanese customs and culture and are essentially a part of the Japanese people.  It has “…shaped Japanese responses to nature, life and death, community life, social organization, political ideology, festivals and aesthetics.” [ix]  Japan would not be what it is today without the presence and influence of Shinto.  According to Japanese mythology, which comes from Shinto, the emperor is a direct descendant of the Sun Goddess--Amaterasu.[x]  Therefore, obeying the emperor’s orders was not only a civic duty, but was viewed as a religious duty.  This connection of religion between the emperor and government is a tool that the Imperial Japanese military leveraged during the early 20th Century and throughout World War II in order to legitimize Japan’s actions and also served as a motive by the Occupation Forces to separate church and state in post-War Japan in order to democratize Japan.[xi] [xii]

This religion holds a special status for Japan’s past warriors.  According to Shinto, “…any person, living or dead, and any place or object…, could be venerated as a kami” or god.[xiii]  Among those especially venerated are emperors, courtiers and warriors.[xiv]  This explains why the spirits of Japan’s fallen soldiers venerated there are considered deities.  In Gallery 5 of the Yushukan Exhibition Hall which commemorates Japan’s wars and located within the grounds of the Yasukuni Shrine, is an inscription that reads, “Worshipping the souls of war heroes at Shinto shrines as protectors of our nation is a tradition that reflects the religious beliefs of the Japanese people, past and present.”

Friction Point 1: Class-A War Criminals

In January 1946 the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was established in Tokyo by the Supreme Commander Allied Powers General Douglas MacArthur by order of President Truman in which Class A, B, and C subjects were tried for war crimes.  Beginning on May 3, 1946, this tribunal tried 28 high-ranking Imperial Japanese Government officials as Class-A war suspects in the “Tokyo War Trials.”  Class-A war criminals were individuals who were convicted of “crimes against peace.”  These individuals were the political and military leaders of Japan who were held responsible for planning and executing the War in the Pacific and viewed by Japan’s neighbors as the individuals who directed the aggression and atrocities that were specifically observed in Korea and China.  Upon conclusion of the “Tokyo War Trials” 25 suspects were convicted and found guilty on 55 counts of “crimes against peace, conventional war crimes, and crimes against humanity.”[xv]

On October 17, 1978, 14 of the convicted 25 Class-A war criminals were enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine.[xvi]  This Government of Japan action (Social Welfare and War Victims’ Relief Bureau of the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare) was a result of requests made by some families of the 1,068 convicted war criminals (Class A, B, and C), which included 14 out of the 25 convicted Class-A war criminals, through veteran’s organizations such as the Japan War-Bereaved Families Association, to enshrine their deceased family members at Yasukuni Shrine.  Custom required that those who died as a result of military service to Japan could be enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine by being entered in the Symbolic Register of Souls in a traditional ceremony called Shokonshiki[xvii].  It should be noted that these 14 Class-A war criminals did not die under combat conditions and were either sentenced to death or died of natural causes while in confinement.  Tsuneo Watanabe, chairman of the Yomiuri Shimbun, is known to have said that he cannot forgive the Class-A war criminals and that he opposed their enshrinement at Yasukuni Shrine because “they did not die in battle” and that they had sent many to their deaths “by promoting violent ideologies.[xviii]

The actual enshrinement of the Class-A war criminals in 1978 has come into to better focus in recent years, as the actual ceremony was conducted in secrecy after the head priest at the time, Fujimaro Tsukuba, had died in March 1978.  Tsukuba had refused to enshrine the war criminals during his tenure.[xix]  However, the new head priest—Nagayoshi Matsudaira—enshrined the Class-A war criminals soon after assuming his position in 1978 and was quoted as saying that his action was a result of his intent “to lash out at” Tokyo Tribunal.[xx]

Prior to the enshrinement of the Class-A war criminals, the emperor of Japan had visited Yasukuni Shrine, with the last visit being by Emperor Hirohito in November 1975.  However, it is well known that Emperor Hirohito had voiced his displeasure of the enshrinement of the 14 Class-A war criminals and stopped visiting.[xxi]  Since 1975, no Japanese emperor has visited this shrine that commemorates the ultimate sacrifice Japanese soldiers have made for their country.   There is one exception and that was in 1989 when Emperor Akihito, Hirohito’s heir, went to Yasukuni Shrine as part of his enthronement.   

Friction Point 2:  Yushukan Exhibition Hall

The Yushukan Exhibition Hall is on the Yasukuni Shrine grounds and seeks to explain the service of those who are venerated at Yasukuni Shrine.  However, to Korea, China and other Asian countries which suffered under Japan’s Imperialist past the Yushukan Exhibition Hall is viewed as an attempt to glorify Japan’s military past.[xxii]  This view is supported by the interpretation of events and history on display in the Yushukan Exhibition Hall which portrays Japan as a nation that was forced into war by the United States.  Other exhibits portray Japan and its people as victims of war.[xxiii]   

However, from the perspective provided by the exhibits in the Yushukan Exhibition Hall, Japan’s past actions was a result of its goal to eradicate Western Powers from East Asia and form a “benevolent” Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.[xxiv]  From this point of view which is asserted by the exhibits in the Yushukan Exhibition Hall and to a greater extent--the Yasukuni Shrine--the aggressive actions by Imperial Japanese Forces were justified.  In recent years, many Japanese to include policy makers have questioned the credibility of a non-governmental, religious institution having an exhibition hall that seeks to explain and rationalize Japan’s past conflicts, particularly with an anti-American tone.[xxv]

Yushukan Exhibition Hall

Friction Point 3: Japanese Culture Clashes with History

As required by Article 20 of the 1946 Japanese Constitution[xxvi] Yasukuni Shrine and other Shinto shrines were separated from government control and have been privately operated ever since.  There have always been voices in the Japanese Government who believe that the shrine should return to state control and protection.  However, this position fuels further criticism of those who advocate for this as they are quickly labeled as ultra-nationalists by their political opponents and by others who oppose the shrine. 

Japan has a national cemetery, but not comparable in scope or function to the   Arlington National Cemetery in the United States, for example, and more importantly not consistent with Japanese culture.  The Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery was established in 1959 and is located near the Yasukuni Shrine but is very small in size and its function is to act as a burial sight for the remains of unknown military personnel and civilians who were killed in Japan’s past wars.  It is in effect a “tomb of the unknown soldier and civilian.”  Remains of over 350,000 unidentified military personnel or military personnel without relatives were repatriated along with military-employed civilians and private citizens from six major battlefields and were cremated and added to a large urn which is placed in a yellowish, ceramic sarcophagus where they rest together.

Ceramic Sarcophagus containing the urn and ashes of unidentified Japanese soldiers and civilians at Chidorigafuchi National Cemeter.

The Japanese prime minister annually goes to Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery and places a wreath by the sarcophagus containing the ashes of the unknown; however, this is a relatively new and Western-influenced custom.  It is not enough for the Japanese to visit cemeteries and graves and pay their respects to their ancestors as Westerners commonly do.  The customary Japanese way to honor the dead is to go to Shinto shrines, with Yasukuni Shrine being established and nationally recognized for Japan’s fallen soldiers.  This is the function of the Yasukuni Shrine, which more accurately resembles the role and function that national cemeteries serve in Western cultures.  Yasukuni Shrine is a place where the present-day living Japanese can go and call on the spirits of the deceased, who are believed to be living among them, and pay their respects to them.  This is the place that the spirits of the war dead are believed to rest.  Walking through Yasukuni Shrine and then through Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery drives this point home.  Crowds in the hundreds form at Yasukuni Shrine daily and on significant dates the numbers swell into the thousands.  However, it is rare to find more than one dozen people at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery at any one time.

Based on these customs and traditions some Japanese politicians continue to argue that Yasukuni Shrine is Japan’s defacto national cemetery and should be afforded governmental protections since it serves a role similar to the national cemeteries of other nations.[xxvii]  In other words, should a Self-Defense Force member be killed in the service of Japan that person could be enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine which is culturally the same act as providing a military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery for a fallen American.  Therefore, despite Article 20 of the Japanese Constitution, some Japanese politicians argue that a democratic and free nation such as Japan can still have a “national shrine” and cite Arlington National Cemetery as an example as to explain Japan’s predicament with the enshrinement of the 14 Class-A war criminals.[xxviii]

Other politicians argue that a separate, secular facility should be established to act as the country’s national facility to honor the war dead.  These politicians say a secular facility will allow the government to own and operate it and provide a solution for honoring the nation’s war dead by top government leaders.  This would allow Japan to act more like other nations.  For example, when Heads of State visit other countries, they routinely visit the host nation’s national cemetery and offer a wreath.  The emperor and the prime minister of Japan also do this when visiting other countries.  However, the same respect is not routinely afforded to Japan.  In fact, the first time high-ranking US officials visited Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery to place a wreath was in October 2013 when Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Hagel visited Japan for a 2+2 Conference.

Friction Point 4: Prime Minister’s Visits

Besides the enshrinement itself of the 14 Class-A war criminals, what started to put this shrine in the news worldwide were the visits of the sitting Japanese prime ministers’ post-enshrinement of the Class-A war criminals.[xxix] [xxx]  In the post-World War II era, as a sitting prime minister, Eisaku Sato has made the most visits with 11.  Masayoshi Ohira was the first sitting prime minister to visit Yasukuni Shrine post-enshrinement of the 14 Class-A war criminals in 1979.  Yasuhiro Nakasone made a total of 10 visits as prime minister post-enshrinement of the 14 Class-A war criminals.  The current prime minister--Shinzo Abe—last visited the shrine on December 26, 2013. [xxxi]  There have been a total of seven sitting prime ministers who have visited Yasukuni Shrine since the enshrinement of the 14 Class-A war criminals.[xxxii] Although the official U.S government position on Yasukuni Shrine and its Yushukan Exhibition Hall is that it is an internal Japanese matter,[xxxiii]  the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo issued a press release in which “the United States [expressed] disappointment” on Prime Minister Abe’s December 26, 2013 visit to Yasukuni Shrine.[xxxiv]   This is the first time the U.S. Government has made this type of criticism towards Japan and took a position that empathizes with Japan’s neighbors.

In the context of the “history problem” the sitting prime minister’s visits are looked upon by Japan’s neighbors as official government support for those enshrined at Yasukuni, specifically the 14 Class-A war criminals.  Furthermore, these high-level visits to a nationally recognized shrine that honors the war dead appear to Japan’s neighbors to contradict the 1993 Kono[xxxv] and 1995 Murayama[xxxvi] Statements.  Specifically, in 1993 then Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono admitted and apologized for the Imperial Japanese military’s involvement in establishing “comfort stations” and recruiting, either by coercion or force, mainly Korean women to serve as prostitutes in those “comfort stations.”  In 1995, then Prime Minister Murayama apologized for the “mistaken national policy advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian countries.”  Japan’s neighbors view the 14 Class-A war criminals as those responsible for the actions in which Kono and Murayama apologizes for and view their veneration at Yasukuni Shrine, which is dignified by the visits of sitting prime ministers, as a flagrant contradiction.  As noted earlier, these high-level visits are also used as evidence by the Koreans and Chinese that Japan has not come to terms with its past and is a key source of tension relating to the “history problem” between Japan and its neighbors. 

However, what the media and others outside of Japan seldom hear is the stated intentions of the sitting prime ministers for visiting, who have become increasingly more willing to express their thoughts on the matter.  On December 26, 2013, Prime Minister Abe stated, “Regrettably, it is a reality that the visit to Yasukuni Shrine has become a political and diplomatic issue.  Some people criticize the visit to Yasukuni as paying homage to war criminals, but the purpose of my visit today, on the anniversary of my administration’s taking office, is to report before the souls of the war dead how my administration has worked for one year and to renew the pledge that Japan must never wage a war again.”[xxxvii]  Additionally, in 1965 the Chinreisha or Spirit-pacifying Shrine was constructed on the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine and adjacent to the main sanctuary.  This shrine is dedicated to the souls of the war dead not worshipped at the sanctuary of Yasukuni Shrine, as well as to “the souls of everyone who died in wars fought anywhere in the world.”[xxxviii]  It is an under-reported fact that when Japanese prime ministers or other leading officials visit Yasukuni Shrine that they demonstrate their stated intentions by ensuring they pay their respects at the Chinreisha.

Twenty Koreans chop off one of their little finger in protest to former Prime Minister Koizumi’s first visit to Yasukuni Shrine in 2001.[xxxix]

Domestically, strict constitutionalists and past political opponents of former Prime Minister Koizumi allege that his visits violated the separation of the church and state article of the constitution.  Koizumi said that his visits were private and that he could not stop being prime minister when he visited.  However in October 2005, the Osaka High Court ruled that former Prime Minister Koizumi’s visits violated the separation of church and state making issue over the fact that he traveled there with his staff and that he signed the official log as Prime Minister Koizumi.  The ruling however, had no power to block the prime minister’s future visits.

Furthermore, in the context of domestic Japanese politics the visits by political figures may be seen as a tool to prompt visceral reaction from foreign governments which strengthens a political figure’s base at critical times in their political careers.  This dynamic; however, also works for the Chinese government who have benefited from anti-Japanese sentiments in China.  Visits by high-ranking Japanese politicians to Yasukuni Shrine has provided plenty of wind for the “Chinese sails of nationalism” and fueled support for the Chinese Government especially at times when Beijing sought to deflect attention from larger domestic problems. 

Peaceful Veneration or A Burden of History?

Most Japanese contend that the overwhelming majority of the soldiers enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine were not political figures, just common citizens who fought for their country and families.  Due to the fact that these Japanese ancestors sacrificed their lives with the belief that it would make a better Japan and East Asia, many Japanese are conflicted between the feelings and concerns of their neighboring countries and their cultural obligations to honor their fallen soldiers.  This attitude however, is not always afforded to the 14 Class-A war criminals enshrined there and increasingly consideration is being given to the negative impact their enshrinement and the sitting prime minister’s visits have on Japan-Korea and Japan-China relations which sways from left to right of the political spectrum depending on media reporting in Japan.  Mainstream Japanese however, continue to view Yasukuni Shrine as an internal issue that should be discussed without external pressure.[xl]    

Since most Japanese practice some level of Shinto a grave is not enough for this culture.  The remains of over 2,000,000 Imperial Japanese soldiers, sailors, airmen, civilian employees, and private citizens were never recovered.  A place such as Yasukuni Shrine is needed in order to call the spirits there and pay their respects to them.  Furthermore, perhaps it is impossible to expect this facility to operate as it was intended without any government interaction.  Essentially, the shrine performs the same role as it did when it was established, except the management changed after World War II.  Since this is the case, there still is a requirement for some level of cooperation between the government and this religious institution.

Whether misunderstood or used for political gain by Japan’s neighbors, high-level patronage to Yasukuni Shrine continues to burden Japan’s relations.  By being aware and understanding Japan’s ontology and of the friction points which are chained to history and carried like a heavy weight vis-à-vis regional relationships, commanders and planners can develop better approaches to managing our alliances and relations as the U.S. Government continues to Rebalance Towards the Asia-Pacific Region.

End Notes

[i] Michael T. Flynn, James Sisco, and David C. Ellis, “Left of Bang, The Value of Sociocultural Analysis in Today’s Environment,” Prism 3, no.4 (September 2013), 14.

[ii] For a detailed profile of the 14 “Class-A” war criminals enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine visit,

[iii] August 15 also marks the anniversary of Victory in Japan and the end of World War II in 1945 for the United States. 

[iv], accessed November, 22 2013.

[v] Nikkei (Tokyo), January 27, 2014.  Nikkei research Inc., conducted a survey viewed telephone in which 45% of respondent said it was appropriate for PM Abe to visit Yasukuni Shrine in December 2013 while 43% said it was inappropriate.

[vi] John Nelson, “Social Memory as Ritual Practice: Commemorating Spirits of the Military Dead at Yasukuni Shrine,” Journal of Asian Studies vol. 62 (2) (May 2003): 447.

[viii] Article 20 of the 1946 Constitution states, “Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all. No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority.  No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious act, celebration, rite or practice.  The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.” Furthermore Article 89 requires that “No public money or other property shall be expended or appropriated for the use, benefit or maintenance of any religious institution or association, or for any charitable, educational or benevolent enterprises not under the control of public authority.” 

[ix] Martin Collcutt, Marius Jansen, and Isao Kumakura, Cultural Atlas of Japan (New York: Facts on File, 1988), 48.

[x] Ibid, 50.

[xi] Article III of the 1889 Constitution of the Empire of Japan (Meiji Constitution) states, “The person of the Emperor is sacred and inviolable,” and Article VI states, “The Emperor gives sanction to laws, and orders them to be promulgated and put into force.” Furthermore, Article XI, “The Emperor has the supreme command of the army and navy.” Chapter II Rights and Duties of Subjects, of the Meiji Constitution provides explanation of ordinary Japanese (“subjects”) and which provides for some individual freedoms “within reason” and which does not interfere with the supreme powers of the Emperor during cases of national emergency.  

[xii] Jansen, Marius B., The Making of Modern Japan, (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000), 669. 

[xiii] Martin Collcutt, Marius Jansen, and Isao Kumakura, Cultural Atlas of Japan (New York: Facts on File, 1988), 48.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xvi], accessed December 1, 2013.

[xvii] From 1933 until the end of World War II, NHK Radio in Japan broadcasted all Shokonshiki throughout all of Japan. 

[xviii] Tokyo Bungei Shunju, Monthly Polls of 81 Opinion Leaders on Koizumi’s Yasukuni Visits, 01 July 2005

[xix] Mainichi Shimbun (Tokyo), January 3, 2014.

[xx] Ibid. 

[xxiii] One example of an inscription written on the timeline exhibit of World War II is, “August 1, 1941, United States imposes an embargo on exporting oil to Japan.  The embargo on oil exports threatens Japan’s very survival.  The United States resolves to go to war against Japan. It is clear that hostilities could commence at any time.” 

[xxiv] Jansen, Marius B., The Making of Modern Japan, (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000), 596, 633, 637, 642. 

[xxv] Asahi (Tokyo), August 29, 2006.

[xxvi] The Constitution actually went into effect on May 3, 1947.  In part, Article 20 reads, “The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.”

[xxvii] These arguments are made and heard during discussions and interviews on serious talk shows.

[xxviii] Shinzo Abe, Utsukushii Kuni, (Tokyo: Bunshunshinsho, 2006), 74.  Shinzo Abe further states that it is natural for a Head of State to pay condolences to fallen soldiers and cites the fact that there is no cry from the American public objecting to the President’s visits to Arlington National Cemetery even though there are confederate soldiers buried there. 

[xxix] Since the end of World War II, 13 sitting prime ministers, beginning with Shigeru Yoshida in 1951 have visited Yasukuni Shrine totaling 65 visits as of December 2013., accessed January 22, 2014.  

[xxx] The first prime minister to visit Yasukuni Shrine on August 15 (Japan’s Memorial Day) was Takeo Miki in 1975., accessed December 27, 2013.

[xxxii] Compiled from various sources.

[xxxiii] TBS-TV (Japan), August 16, 2006.

[xl] A Kyodo News poll taken between August 15 and 16, 2006 revealed that 60.4% of respondents believed that the Class-A war criminals should be removed from the Yasukuni Shrine.  Most other polls taken around the same time by Japanese media revealed that just over 50% of the public support the visits of the former charismatic prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, but shy away from lending the same support to the his successor—Shinzo Abe, who became prime minister again, for a second time, in 2012.  Perhaps it has something to do with the lineage of Prime Minister Abe.  According to Hiro Aida, “Japanese Asianism,” The Wall Street Journal, July 14-16, 2006, page 13 the grandfather of Shinzo Abe was Nobusuke Kishi, who was the former Minister of Commerce and Industry for General Tojo during World War II.  Mr. Kishi was a “Class-A” war suspect but released and eventually became prime minister of Japan.  A Fuji TV poll reported on January 06, 2014 confirmed a lack of support for Shinzo Abe following is December 26, 2013 visit in his second term as prime minister.  Specifically, 53.0% disapproved of Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine last month, while 38.1% approved of it. Meanwhile, 67.7% said they were displeased by criticism of Prime Minister Abe’s Yasukuni visit by South Korea and China, while 23.3% felt otherwise. In addition, 59.2% said they were displeased by the USG statement expressing “disappointment,” while 31.6% felt otherwise.


About the Author(s)

Major Giuseppe “Joe” Stavale is a study-track Northeast Asia Foreign Area Officer (FAO) specializing in Japan and has completed a joint FAO utilization tour at Headquarters, U.S. Forces, Japan and currently serves as the Executive Officer, 3D Law Enforcement Battalion, III Marine Headquarters Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Okinawa, Japan.