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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:34 03/09/2007
Comment (June 21, 2006)

Commenting on Mr. Masahiko Ishizuka's Article "Past 'Is Not Past' As Japan Faces Test to Chart Course in Asia"

Jason Girard (University of Southern California)

Masahiko Ishizuka's article highlights the tension Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi creates with China and South Korea when he conducts his visits to the famed Yasukuni Shrine. The root of the problem lies in the fact that the shrine "honors" some 1000 convicted war criminals. Ishizuka takes a relatively balanced stance on the issue, neither criticizing nor supporting Koizumi's action; however, he does very well point out that for Japan to continue its economic success in Asia, Koizumi's successor will have to place China and South Korea relations and the forefront of their office.

I agree with Ishizuka's claim that these political relations will no doubt be of utter importance in the future, and I also agree that Koizumi is, to a certain extent, antagonizing relations between Japan and these two nations. However, in a nationalist sense, I also see the value in allowing Japan to mourn and remember its own soldiers.

First off, the Yasukuni Shrine, or Yasukuni Jinja, literally means "peaceful nation shrine". The name itself expresses a degree of respect and is galvanized by Koizumi's public statements that his successive public visits (from 2001 through to 2005) to the shrine are done so in order to ensure that there will be no further wars involving Japan. Thus, many supporters of his visits point out that this act is one of remembrance and not reverence. Furthermore, the sheer amount of names recorded at the shrine, nearly 2.5 million, further support the idea of remembrance.

In terms of China's opposition, which has been the most vocal, supporters of the visit point out that the issue of the shrine is heavily tied to China's internal political woes as much as it is to the historical conduct of Japan's military. The large-scale state sponsored protects that have occurred in China against the shrine contrasts with the usual iron fist tactics the Chinese government uses to prevent any kind of domestic political dissent. In other words, China's strong position on the matter is merely an effort to avert the eyes of the world from its own tarnished track record.

Another point that must be taken into account is the cultural difference on death between Japan and China. The Japanese, unlike the Chinese, view one's crime absolved after they have died. Japanese Shinto theology does not recognize the concepts of karma, heaven, or hell which is present in both Korean and Chinese beliefs. In fact, China and Korea have monuments which condemn individuals who have committed grave crimes against the state or humanity. Therefore, the perceived offense is simply a misunderstanding by Korea and China.

For these reasons, perhaps the Yasukuni Shrine controversy should not be taken to such a degree. However, no one can deny Japan's war crimes during the Second World War. This shrine coupled with other controversies that involve Japanese school textbooks and political figures that seemingly play down Japanese actions during the war, it is also easy to see why China and Korea are opposed. At the end of day, the underlying factor is still prominent, for the Asian continent to continually assert itself in the world economy, these three countries will have to co-exist with a certain degree of unity, if not completely amicable ties. Moreover, for each nation, especially Japan, to continue its own individual successes, a game of "give and take" will have to evolve. There should be less focus on individual pride, but rather a focus on a united front.

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