Ein Shinto-Schrein, die Verfassung und der Friede
Nationalization of Yasukuni Shrine Means Revival of Militarism...
von UEMATSU Eiji
With this as one of their slogans, many Christians joined with citizen's groups gathered in record numbers throughout Japan on Feb. 11, 1983, to oppose the government-backed National Foundation Day celebration. Although incomplete, the figures released by the Kyodan Shimpo show that over 11,500 persons attended the 90 rallies included in its survery.
Two of the largest gatherings reported were the Miyagi Prefectural Rally in Sendai and the Chiyoda Rally in Tokyo with over 700 each. The various rallies in Okinawa alone totalled over 2,000 persons. The underlying concern behind these protests against National Foundation Day is the well-grounded fear that Japan's present government is promoting a revival of militarism. The one issue that continues to be symbolic of these attempts is the nationalization of Yasukuni Shrine.
From 1969 to 1974, a bill to nationalize Yasukuni Shrine was presented five times in the National Diet for the purpose of returning the Shinto shrine to national government administration (the shrine, like all other Shinto shrines, was removed from national support and administration by the Occupation GHQ's "Shinto Directive" in December 1945; see Chronology). But each time, the Yasukuni Shrine nationalization bill was defeated. Even so, the government, the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party, and persons related to the shrine have not abandoned hope of nationalizing this shrine, which enshrines Japan's war dead.
What is the nature, and the underlying intent, of these Yasukuni Shrine bills - clearly the most controversial in postwar Diet history? It is no exaggeration to say that for a non-Japanese person to understand the Yasukuni Shrine issue is to reach a basic understanding of modern Japan.
The essence of the Yasukuni issue is best revealed in the popular query: "Why is it wrong for the country to venerate (matsuru) those who died for the country (o-kuni)?"
Those who oppose nationalization of the shrine must be able to respond clearly and convincingly to this question. And yet, such is not easy, for it is a very difficult question even for those opposed to nationalizing Yasukuni Shrine. The difficulty is evident in three key terms of the question."
1. The country (o-kuni)”
In the term o-kuni, the "o" is an honorific. The Japanese language is well-known for its abundance of honorifics. But in this particular case, the "o" is the superlative of all honorifics, for it means that the country is "the Emperor's country." For people who use this term, Japan is not "our" country but "his" country.
The notion that the country belongs to the Emperor has been an article of faith among the Japanese people since ancient times; it is a political myth rooted in the "Age of the gods" that predates recorded history. This political myth was exploited to the utmost in the "Fifteen-years War" (1931-45); it was a powerful ideological weapon in Japan's arsenal of that period.
With Japan's defeat in 1945, this political myth was thoroughly discredited. The "Shinto Directive" issued by the Occupation GHQ completely negated the beliefs that "the Emperor is descended from the gods," "Japan is the land of the gods," and "the Japanese are superior to other peoples."
The efforts to restore Yasukuni Shrine to national administration are, at bottom, part of an attempt to resurrect the political myth shattered along with Japan's war effort in 1945.
2. "Dying for the country"
The ideal of the samurai code of honor (bushidō) was "to die a death fully worthy of a samurai." In time, this ideal spread beyond samurai ranks to influence the thinking of the general populace. Indeed, to die for one's master was regarded as the highest morality. Since Meiji times (1868-1912), this ideal was exploited to the fullest extent, and "dying for one's master," of course, came to mean dying for the Emperor. Dying for the Emperor, in turn, was referred to as "a glorious death in battle." Such a death was a necessary condition for becoming one of the "gods" enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine.
This notion of "a glorious death in battle" fostered among the Japanese people an extremely narrow attitude toward war. It robbed them of opportunities to develop more responsible views of war as aggression and as a crime against justice and humanity.
In the state-authorized textbooks used during wartime, there was a story about a heroic bugler. "Even though Corpsman Kiguchi died, he never took his lips from his bugle." This idealization of death in battle was intimately linked to the glorification of war. In much the same way, Yasukuni Shrine was directly connected with the promotion of militarism in Japan.
3. "To enshrine and venerate (matsuru) the war dead"
To enshrine the war dead means, in the Shinto context, to deify them and thus to venerate them as "gods." Enshrinement has both religious and political meanings - a crucial point in understanding the nature and role of Yasukuni Shrine.
In its religious dimension, the purpose of enshrinement is to console and pacify the spirits of the war dead. This religious meaning of the term has something in common with general religious practices.
The political meaning, however, is "to praise heroic spirits," that is, to praise the war dead as heroes. The political purpose of enshrinement is, therefore, not directed toward the war dead; it is, rather, aimed at the hearts of the people still living - to indoctrinate them with militarism.
The pompous festivals of Yasukuni Shrine are aimed precisely at indoctrination, as are the Imperial visits to the shrine. This crucial point is not always obvious to many people. Yasukuni Shrine promoters, however, skillfully manipulate this "blind spot" among the people in order to revive and promote militarism once again in this country.
(UEMATSU Eiji, 1983 (translated by David L. SWAIN)
Kyodan Newsletter 172, 20. Februar 1983)