Wednesday, August 16, 2006


One Last Kamikaze Raid

The most surprising thing I learned in my recent trip eastward was how raw remain the feelings that the Chinese have toward Japan. In a nation which sees things in the expanse of thousands of years of civilization, the sense of violation and anger from multiple invasions by the Japanese are as palpable as ever.

This antipathy -- never far from the surface -- has experienced a major revival in recent years. It was on display again yesterday with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi final visit to the
Yasukuni Shrine.

To a degree unlike any postwar prime minister, Koizumi has regularly gone to the shrine which, though revering the 2.1 million Japanese lost in wars going back to the end of the 19th century, also honors full-fledged war criminals (as judged by the
post-World War II held by the Allies in Tokyo). That includes one of the great "villains" of that time (from the American perspective)-- wartime premier Hideki Tojo. Think of Reagan's visit to Bitburg -- to the tenth power.

Even Japan's emperors have kept the shrine at arm's length.

The Chinese are particularly infuriated by Koizumi's continued visits because they feel it reflects on a general Japanese refusal to recognize the truth of the nation's actions during the
first half of the 20th century:

The Yasukuni mindset holds that Japan fought a purely defensive war to liberate Asia. Countries from India to Indonesia owe their independence from European colonialism to the thankless efforts of Japan. Tokyo was provoked into going to war by "Chinese terrorists" and Europeans who connived to hold down the rising but resource-poor power.

The Yasukuni mindset also holds that the Tokyo war-crimes trials with the resulting convictions and executions of such figures as wartime premier Hideki Tojo were a sham, mere victor's justice. Tojo's granddaughter spends much of her time propagating this view, which was also spread through a popular movie of a few years back called Pride.

These views are no longer the province of the right-wing fringe, the kind of people who patrol the streets of Tokyo in sound trucks hectoring people through loudspeakers. They are becoming mainstream.
To inflame matters further, yesterday's visit was on the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, essentially thumbing his nose at Japan's closest ally, the United States. As far as the calls for him not to go to the shrine, Koizumi -- the big Elvis fan -- returns them to sender, regardless what it means for regional relations:

“People say, ‘Don’t do anything that annoys China or South Korea, so Asian diplomacy will be in good shape’,” Mr Koizumi said after his early-morning visit. “But I don’t think that’s the case. If Bush of the United States tells me not to go, would I stop? No, I would still go even then. But President Bush would not say anything so immature. I have visited the shrine in the past to pray for those who had to sacrifice themselves. The visit is not dedicated to the Class-A war criminals. I am not going to the shrine in order to encourage Shinto or to glorify and justify Japan’s past militarism.”

Mr Koizumi will step down next month after five years as Prime Minister, and his appearance at Yasukuni, formally dressed in a morning suit and bowing deeply in front of the inner sanctuary of the 137-year-old shrine, had been widely expected. But it marks a new low in Japan’s recent relations with its neighbours, and casts a shadow over his considerable achievements as a reformer of the Japanese political system and rejuvenated economy.
Oh well. Happy VJ Day.

UPDTATE: My friend Tom Moran relates a nice anecdote about the original VJ Day. With a rather poignant kicker at the end.

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