Free the Yasukuni 14!
Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, May 28, 2008
THE ENSHRINED SPIRITS of the 14 men designated by the victorious Allied forces in World War II as Class A war criminals might just as well be collectively referred to as the Yasukuni 14, denoting their de facto status as political prisoners. It’s only fitting—as with the motley crew of miscreants who have been retrofitted as icons in the left’s long parade of causes du jour, the memories of these men have become little more than prisoners of contemporary politics.
Neither the Yasukuni 14 nor their stories raise widespread passion any longer among the Japanese people, few of whom could identify more than two or three by name. To be sure, the entire range of opinions on the issue exists in the body politic, from those who think their enshrinement with the 2.5 million other people who died fighting for Japan is a sacrilege, to those who consider it an expression of patriotism that would be unremarkable in any other country. (After all, who objects to the Confederate soldiers buried in the Arlington National Cemetery in the U.S.?)
Still, no one views it as a hot-button issue. The last time debate over the enshrinement arose, during the 2005 lower house election, an Asahi Shimbun poll found that it ranked only fifth as an issue of importance. Fewer than 10% of those surveyed thought it was even worth mentioning.
The Japanese also know that they are no more likely to restage their bloody imperial adventure in East Asia than turtles are to sing grand opera. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere is not going to rise again.
But they also realize that neighboring countries will continue to wield the Yasukuni enshrinement as a weapon in bilateral relations, and as an easily played card in their domestic political casino to excite the public and divert its attention from the leadership’s political shortcomings.
Nevertheless, even faux issues that have become political footballs generate real emotions, as the demonstrations in China and South Korea in 2005 attest. For that reason, they cannot be ignored. The antagonists view this issue as a zero-sum game, making it more difficult to resolve the problem in a way that makes everyone, if not happy, then at least satisfied their views were heard and accounted for.
It is in this context that an old proposal is being resuscitated. The Japanese edition of the Mainichi Shimbun is reporting that a book to be published next month includes the suggestion that the spirits of the Yasukuni 14 be transferred to the Togo Shinto shrine in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. The Togo refers to the tutelary diety of the shrine, Admiral Togo Heihachiro, who defeated the Russian fleet during the 1905 war. The author of the book is Matsuhashi Teruo, the former chief priest at the Togo shrine. The Mainichi thought the idea was worth an article because it is unusual for a person prominent in the Shinto hierarchy to offer such a suggestion for public debate.
It’s also not the first time he’s floated this idea. He initially brought it up during the anti-Japanese demonstrations and rioting in China and South Korea in 2005, but he held his tongue when the Association of Shinto Shrines (link also on right sidebar), asked him to stop. He began to speak out in public again after leaving his position at the Togo shrine in April 2007.
The view of the association, which oversees about 80,000 shrines nationwide, is that Shinto doctrine prevents the separation of the enshrined spirits. The Mainichi Shimbun, however, observes that if an influential shrine affiliated with the association offered to accept the spirits of the Yasukuni 14, it would encourage public debate over separation as a solution.
Mr. Matsuhashi makes the point in his book that the Yasukuni enshrinement invites the opposition of China and other countries, and the problem will linger even if future prime ministers refrain from their occasional August visits. Now that the dispute has settled down, he says, it is time to seriously consider the idea.
His proposal calls for the Yasukuni 14 to be placed in the care of the smaller Umi no Miya shrine (photo) on the Togo shrine grounds, which also exhibits a display of panels depicting scenes from the Admiral’s life. Offering some Shinto doctrinal interpretation of his own, Mr. Matsuhashi says that even if the spirits remain in the Yasukuni shrine as the agency insists they must, the families could regard them has having been moved to the Togo shrine and freely venerate them in their new location. The Chinese would view this as a sincere response, he believes, which would defuse the situation and prevent them from playing the Yasukuni card.
Mr. Matsuhashi agrees with the association’s opposition to a new national facility to replace Yasukuni. Diet member and former Liberal Democratic Party Secretary―General Koga Makoto (a faction leader), who is the chairman of the Nippon Izokukai, an association for bereaved families of the nation’s war dead, also has suggested that the 14 be enshrined separately. His association set up a study group in May 2007 to discuss the issue.
The Togo Shrine
The idea to dedicate a shrine to Admiral Togo arose after other shrines were built to honor another Russo-Japanese War hero, Count Nogi Maresuke, who commanded the Imperial Army forces that laid siege to Port Arthur. Admiral Togo himself didn’t care for the suggestion, mostly because he was still alive when the talk began, and enshrinement is an honor accorded only to the dead.
The Tokyo shrine was dedicated on 27 May 1940, which at that time was Navy Day. The main building was destroyed in the war, but it was rebuilt and rededicated in May 1964.
One reason the Togo Shrine might be considered an appropriate destination for the Yasukuni 14 is that it was granted the same special governmental status as the Yasukuni Shrine before the war. That status was revoked in 1945 because there was nothing left of the shrine by then.
The admiral is the primary tutelary deity at another Togo shrine in Fukutsu, Fukuoka. Evidently, the Association of Shinto Shrines accepts the idea that one person/spirit can be enshrined in more than one facility, but rejects the idea that 14 spirits can’t be sundered from 2.5 million and placed into a separate facility for the same purpose. Perhaps some Shintoists are just as capable of counting pinhead dancers as any Christian, Jew, or Moslem.
Many naval personnel pay homage to the spirit of the admiral at both shrines, but the Tokyo shrine also is visited by people in the iron and steel industry, students sitting for entrance exams, and gamblers. They offer prayers to the admiral’s spirit in the hope that some of his strength and good luck will rub off on them.
And that might tell you all you need to know. When the gamblers outnumber Imperial diehards, the Chinese or the Koreans really don’t have much to worry about.