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The controversial Tokyo shrine

Visitors arrive at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Friday, to mark the 69th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.  

On January 27, 1874 Emperor Meiji visited the Tokyo Shokonsha, a shrine built for the war dead in Japan in 1869.

During his visit, the emperor dedicated a poem promising to honour the war dead in the shrine for eternity. It was the time of the Meiji Restoration when a revolution was underway in Japan to completely restore the rule of the Emperor. Following Emperor Meiji’s visit the shrine was renamed as the Yasukuni shrine in 1879, which translated to ‘preserving peace of the nation’.

Today this Shinto shrine in Tokyo honours and worships 2,466,000 deities. According to the Shinto faith, the dead continue to protect the living in the form of guardian angels and these eternal souls are venerated at the Yasukuni shrine.

The deities include soldiers who died at the warfront during Japan’s internal struggles such as the Boshin war, the two World Wars and during the several conflicts in Asia with Japan’s neighbours China and South Korea. It also includes women, children and young boys who worked for Japan’s cause during the wars as nurses and soldiers.


Yet, what irks Japan’s neighbours and the U.S. most is the veneration of Japan’s 14 wartime leaders like General Hideki Tojo who was Japan’s Prime Minister from 1941-44 during WWII. Tojo, who authorised most of Japan’s atrocities during the war, tried committing suicide after its surrender in 1945. But, he was nursed back to health by the Allied forces, tried at the Tokyo trials and hanged in 1948.

Tojo and the other war leaders of Japan are considered representative of Japan’s brutal military past by South Korea and China, which were under Japan’s imperial rule in the 19 and 20 centuries. Their veneration is seen as a sign of Japan not repenting for its atrocities in its occupied regions.

Hence, visits by leaders of the state to the shrine on important days such as August 15, when Japan surrendered in WWII, still stir up tensions between these south-east nations and draw criticism from western countries like the U.S.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 6:00:44 PM |

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