Ein Shinto-Schrein, die Verfassung und der Friede

Nation-wide rallies challenge Japan's political mood

A Report from Kyodan, 1982

On February 11, over fifty rallies were held throughout Japan under the auspices of church-oriented groups. These were part of a continuing effort to check the revival of State Shintoism that has been gaining added steam with recent government moves to expand Japan's military power and nuclear energy potential on the one hand, while cooperating hand in glove with the movement to establish Aug. 15 as a National Day of Mourning for the War Dead and pass legislation for official governmental visits to Yasukuni Shrine.

This year marked the 16th observance of "National Foundation Day" since its restoration on Feb. 11, 1967. It is also of interest that on Feb. 20, 1967, the Kyôdan Executive Committee approved the Kyôdan Confession of Responsibility During World War II. And then in June of 1968, the Kyôdan decided to observe Feb. 11 as a day to "protect religious freedoms," in opposition to the revival of the state emperor system.

Rightist trucks enter Meiji Shrine

This year the Kyôdan also issued a statement regarding this day, appealing to the churches to strive for that Peace which only comes from the Lord. Several letters of protest were also sent to the various Cabinet ministries opposing their participation and government support of Foundation Day ceremonies.

The choice of February 11 as National Foundation Day was not by chance. In the 5th year of Meiji (1872), this date was first determined as the day to memorialize the accession of Japan's first Emperor Jimmu, in 660 B.C. according to Shinto mythology.

From 1873 until the end of WWII it was celebrated as "Empire Day" or Kigen-setsu, to mark the beginning of Japan's imperial rule. It was also on this date in 1889 that Emperor Meiji chose to promulgate the Constitution of the Great Japanese Empire which established the Emperor as a sovereign with inviolable sacredness and gave rise to Japanese militarism.

Rightist Backed Parade and Ceremonies

Neither was it by coincidence that the parade to celebrate Foundation Day this year ended in the precincts of Meiji Shrine in Tokyo where Emperor Meiji and his consort Empress Shōken are enshrined as deities. The ceremonies held in the Worshippers Hall of the shrine under the sponsorship of a right-wing sponsoring group have gained limited government backing since 1978. The sponsors, however, are calling for complete government sponsorship.

One tool being used to gain government participation is the attendance of members of the foreign diplomatic corps. The presence of the diplomats from 64 countries (almost double the number last year) was used as the reason for the attendance this year for the first time of Japan's Foreign Minister, joining four other Cabinet ministers. The sponsoring chairman and celebrity-composer, MAYUZUMI Toshiro, spoke of his embarrassment that Japan's Prime Minister was not present to greet the foreign dignitaries.

Diplomats cars at Meiji Shrine

While pledging to work for full government support of the festivities, Mr. MAYUZUMI called for a strengthening of Japan's defences and support for Yasukuni Shrine. He also spoke glowingly of the ideological basis of the founding of the Empire by Emperor Jimmu, using the pre-war slogan of Hakkō Ichi-u, "All Corners of the World Under One Roof."

It was under this slogan that Japan sought to build the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere under the "one roof" of the Japanese Empire. According to Mayuzumi, it is this ideal of "brotherhood and harmony" which can "unify the world under one family-state" and thus provide the true basis for peace.

Of course, the context for these remarks was within the same ceremony which began with the singing of the Imperial Hymn, "Kimigayo" (see KNL #124), followed by bowing deeply in worship to the Imperial Tomb of Emperor Jimmu in Nara through the medium of the Imperial Sun-flag. The observance of this Shinto posture of worship was initiated this year in place of the moment of silent prayer used in prior ceremonies, and is one more indication of the real intent of the sponsors. The ceremony ended with three cheers of "banzai" in the name of "His Imperial Majesty."

Right-wing group at Meiji-Shrine

It is doubtful that the foreign dignitaries present were aware they were being called to this form of peaceful co-existence under the roof of a revitalized and militarily powerful Japanese Empire. The rows of their diplomatic cars in front of the Worshippers Hall provided quite a contrast to the inner parking lot of Meiji Shrine filled with placard-laden trucks of right-wing groups that had been openly welcomed into the shrine precincts.

Sense of Crisis Grows

The mood of this year's National Foundation Day ceremonies is indicative of the political swing to the right which has created a sense of crisis in the church. The many opposition rallies held nationwide sought to call attention to this trend and create a clearer understanding of the issues involved. According to reports by the National Police Agency, there were 53 opposition rallies with between ten to twenty thousand participants. The same source reported some 4,100 persons in attendance at supporting ceremonies in 40 locations, including the large observance at Meiji Shrine. These comparative figures speak well for the Christian-backed position.

A rough tabulation of the themes of the various opposition rallies, including some with multiple themes, indicates that the main concern is still with Yasukuni-related issues. A breakdown by themes is as follows: Yasukuni issues (17); war, militarism, and the rightist trend (12); the emperor system (8); revival of Empire Day (6); the Constitution and textbooks, etc. (5); religious freedoms and conscience (5); establishing a Day of Mourning for the War Dead (4); the church in the world (3); church and state (3); Asia, Korea and Okinawa (3); and one lecture in Okinawa on the trend of churches in the U.S. under the Reagan administration.

The growing concern over Japan's military expansion was heightened with the step-up in preparations for the establishment of an emergency powers system following the summit meeting in May 1981 between Japanese and American leaders. This meeting determined Japan's key role in the U.S. military alliance in the event of any "emergency in the Far East."

February 11 Rally in Osaka: "Stop Yasukuni Nationalization" "Oppose Emperor System"

With this as a pretext, Japan is taking steps to legislate an Emergency Powers Act, adopt a military and civilian draft system, and moving towards the dispatch of troops overseas, the development of nuclear arms, the export of weapons, and wider participation in the Rim Pac (rim of the Pacific) War Games, all in the name of joint U.S.-Japanese military preparedness.

At the same time a new right-wing organization has been formed as a "Citizens Conference to Defend Japan." As an extension of efforts to nationalize the Yasukuni Shrine, they are now pushing for a revision of the Japanese Constitution along the lines of the Meiji Imperial Constitution. They also are preparing a government-backed bill for setting August 15, the day of Japan's defeat, as a Day of Mourning which would beautify the war dead as "heroic spirits" enshrined in Yasukuni Shrine. They seem to be in a hurry to have this all adopted in time for the new war dead.

UEMATSU Eiji, member of the Kyôdan Yasukuni Issues Committee, was one of the many speakers at church-organized rallies. To a group of citizens of all ages in Nagano, he pointed out that the government should not become involved in the religious act of "mourning" for the dead. For Christians who remember the past war, there is also the question of not forgetting the many victims in the countries of Asia resulting from a war instigated by Japan.

Christians demonstarte in Nagano: "Oppose Military Expansion - Support Peace Constitution"

After the rally in Nagano, some 45 persons joined in a solemn procession from the church to Nagano Station through the cold and snowy streets. They then presented a petition to the Nagano Prefectural Assembly opposing official governmental visits to Yasukuni Shrine. One elderly participant said, "during the Second World War, we couldn't do anything to oppose the war. When Japan again seems to be on the road to war, I want to work now so that I won't regret later that I did nothing about it."
George GISH and UEMATSU Eiji

(Kyodan Newsletter, No. 162, February 20, 1982)


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