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Koizumi's Farewell Present

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 Posted: 12:40 PM JST

Just a month before he steps down as Prime Minister, Koizumi managed to worsen Japan's relations with China and South Korea to newer depths. In terms of international relations, the Prime Minister's decision to visit Yasukuni Shrine on August 15th, the day the war in the Asia Pacific area ended in 1945, appears beyond stupid. It has further outraged the Chinese and South Koreans. But it also has some positive effects, which are largely overlooked by the international media.

Japanese media are spending an inordinate amount of time and attention to the visits. Lots of programs offer discussions about the Koizumi's visit, the shrine's role and the responsibility for the war. Many people who have probably never even considered these topics are now forced to think about them.

There is an enormous divide between the different parties. On one side you have people like Yuko Tojo, the granddaughter of wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, sentenced as a war criminal, who claims that the Class A war criminals enshrined at Yasukuni aren't war criminals at all, and who interprets Koizumi's visits as a clear sign that this is so. "I thank Prime Minister Koizumi from the bottom of my heart for today's visit, since he put away other countries' interference in domestic affairs," she said yesterday.

On the other side you have politicians like LDP-member Koichi Kato who strongly criticized Koizumi for his shrine visit yesterday. Sadly, late yesterday evening his home and office appear to have been burnt down by arsonists. The anti-Yasukuni camp also has some unlikely members. Eight families of Class A war criminals say that they don't care whether their souls are enshrined there or not.

According to the inevitable polls, a small majority of Japanese are against Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni. But the main reason these people give in interviews and polls for being against the visits, is the resulting bad relations with neighbors China and Korea.

Although Koizumi's visits have started heated discussions, one important issue is rarely mentioned. Yasukuni's past and present role as a symbol of fervent nationalism. The protests against Koizumi visiting Yasukuni are because of the Class A war criminals enshrined at the Shinto shrine. It should be because of the questionable nature of the shrine itself.

On the shrine grounds, there is a war museum, the Yushukan, which gives a chillingly skewed version of Japan's war actions. There is no mention of biological warfare, comfort women, slavery and atrocities committed by Japanese troops. Japan was invited by Asian countries, the Yushukan insists, Japan never started an agressive war. In contrast, Japan is portrayed as the country that liberated Asia from Western imperialists.

Japan has never been able to found a national museum on what is now increasingly called the "Showa War". The absence of such a museum is a direct result of the lack of national consensus on the war. By not risking the establishment of such a museum it also guarantees that such a consensus cannot be reached. Unfortunately, the Yushukan fills the void that this absence of a national war museum has created. And it fills it in a terrifyingly disturbing way.

If Koizumi's visits have fired up domestic discussions that may lead to reviewing Japan's role and responsibilities, and perhaps eventually even the establishment of a national war museum, the price in tattered international relationships may have been extremely high, but would probably be worth it.

Keywords: opinion_item

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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
Stone Bridge Press

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