Saturday, October 20, 2007

A further note on the Yasukuni Jinja

While at dinner with the amusing Sir T, he gave me an insight into how the right think about the Yasukuni Jinja. The Yasukuni Jinja is a shrine in Tokyo which causes much international outrage because it holds the souls of all soldiers ever to have died defending Japan, and includes the souls of 14 class A war criminals which were put there after World War 2. Koizumi Junichiro used to visit every year, and this caused great anger in China and Korea (who rightly have a few issues with Japan's war past). It is supposed to carry the souls of all who die fighting for Japan. Most foreign thought seems to be that it is okay for the shrine to hold the souls of those who died fighting an illegal war (world war 2) but it shouldn't hold the souls of war criminals.

This line of thought obviously has 2 large flaws - one being that we as foreigners have no right to tell any country who they can and can't inter where; and the other being that before world war 2, presumably anyone interred in the shrine could have been a war criminal (the Geneva conventions being rather late on the scene). Let us put aside these two arguments for the moment, and suppose that prima facie foreigners have some right to be concerned about the souls of those from the modern era who did bad things to us.

While at Dinner with Sir T, he explained to me the history and nature of the Yasukuni Jinja a little more, and why it is so important, and what he told me helped me to understand perhaps why those 14 people really have to be there, regardless of the trouble they cause. He told me that the shrine was established after the Meiji restoration (of 1867) to pacify the nation. At that time there was a great civil war between those who restored the Emperor and the followers of the Shogun (the Samurai) who fought against the restoration. After it ended with the complete defeat of the Samurai, the nation needed calm. The shrine was established and the souls of the dead of both sides were interred therein. This was done because all soldiers of Japan were considered to be fighting for Japan, and the veneration of only one side would be an indication that Japan does not love some of her citizens as much as others.

Essentially the Japanese honoured the souls of people they would have considered, at the time, to be traitors and heretics (recall the Emperor is descended from the Sun-God, and any act against the emperor is treasonous and heretical); and many of them would have been war criminals to boot, considering how wars of that time were conducted. If they are to unconditionally inter the souls of those they consider to be traitors, criminals and heretics, it would be terribly unseemly for them to deny 14 people membership of the same shrine merely because they are war criminals. The shrine was established to pacify the nation (this is the meaning of the word "Yasukuni"), to ensure that whatever wrongs happen in war within or outside Japan, Japan itself - a concept viewed by the Japanese as almost holy in itself - will endure in peace and stability. The shrine existed for this purpose long before the second world war, and from the point of view of its purpose the second world war was neither unique nor particularly good or bad. From this point of view one cannot create exceptions to the rule that soldiers be honoured here. The shrine seems to embody the unconditional love of Japan for its people.

(I should add a little interpretive note here - I was conducting this conversation in Japanese, drunk on beer and sake, and Sir T was smashed. I tried to say "unconditional", but my limited maths training in Japanese enables me only to say "conditional" and "independent". I tried to construct a guess at the word "unconditional love" but it didn't quite work. So this part of the conclusions I draw here - which I grant is quite important - is based on at least some conjecture on my part. But the sake was damn good!)

I find this argument for the continuation of the shrine in its current state (i.e. with war criminals present) quite convincing. I am particularly impressed by the notion that a state should have unconditional love for its citizens, an idea which our western nations are rapidly forgetting in this age of expedient political victims and worthy and unworthy citizens. Sir T suggested to me a view of the shrine and its role which I think is more than defensible, possibly even noble. My mind is not yet made up, but I am considering the possibility that we could all learn a little from such a view, given the way our own countries are beginning to turn on their citizens in a most dishonourable and unloving fashion...


Post a Comment

<< Home