Monday, August 14, 2006

Koizumi and Yasukuni Shrine: Will He or Won’t He?

Shadow on a shrine: Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visit to Yasukuni Shrine to honor the war dead, roils relations with China and other neighbors (caption from YaleGlobal Online).

Okay, I’ve been meaning to write about this for a few hours. There is an article on the BBC that talks about South Korea’s opposition to a visit possibly planned by Junichiro Koizumi to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo to commemorate the anniversary of Japan’s World War II surrender on August 15, 1945: S Korea warns on Yasukuni visit. Koizumi vowed to visit the shrine on the August 15th anniversary, during his campaign for office, but he's yet to do so. As he's set to step down later this year there is heightened concern that as this is his last chance, he might do it today.

When I was in Tokyo, I actually found my way to this shrine, but at the time I had no idea it was so controversial. When I was there, I thought it was beautiful and serene. I spent a lot of time wandering around and taking it all in. However, what it represents to Koreans and Chinese as well as others who suffered during the Japanese military period is the antithesis of beauty and serenity. A lot of Westerners only know of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 which is what caused the United States to finally enter World War II. The Japanese invasion and occupation of both China and Korea was brutal. The Nanking Massacre has gone down in history as one of the most brutal events in world history. In Korea, Korean women were forced into sexual slavery to serve the Japanese military. These women are called 위안부, wianbu, or comfort women. There are a few that are alive and are still telling their story today. During the Japanese occupation of Korea, the Japanese tried to essentially assimilate Korea and the Koreans by forcing them to do their studies in Japanese. There are many other atrocities that were forced upon the Koreans during this period, but I don't feel qualified to discuss them in detail here as I know there is more I need to learn.

What is interesting is in discussions on Koreans and their animosity toward the Japanese people will often point out that Koreans get all in huff over Japan while the Japanese really don’t pay much attention to their anger or frustration. However, the BBC article indicates that at least some in Japan are starting to notice how Koizumi riles up the neighbors and have called for him to cease. In fact, the article says that more than half of the Japanese public wants him to stop his official visits this shrine.

Will Koizumi go to the Yasukuni Shrine later today? Maybe, maybe not.

However, as it’s been his custom to visit it once a year he just might choose to leave office in a blaze of defiant glory. But there should be no doubt as to why both Koreas and China see those visits as a slap in the face.

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