Yasukuni Shrine, Part II
War is something that I cannot get my mind around. It is completely incomprehensible to me. But precisely because wars are so prevalent today, I feel an urgency to try and understand why people resort to violence to solve their controversies. And coupled with that questioning is the universal tendency to highly revere soldiers who die in combat, no matter how alarming or questionable the conflict may have been. This effort to understand is not to condone war, not at all. It is rather a desire to get a glimpse into the psychology behind that unfortunate choice of behavior.
I wandered slowly and found monuments in honor of all those who sacrificed in war: from combat horses to mothers and wives grieving their slain loved ones. The sincerity and devotion of worshippers struck a deep cord, as one after another bowed, clapped twice, prayed, and bowed again. There was a sense of being absolved, of purifying one’s inner and outer being in order to move out into the world with greater clarity and purpose.
The energy at Yasukuni Jingu was intense, but subtle. Even though the shrine is relatively new, the long stretch of history could be felt everywhere, rising from the rich black earth of the complex itself. The accompanying museum depicted this land’s wars for literally 1000s of years as it struggled with shifting identities and changes in power.
Earlier eras seemed to express the “Art of War” with magnificent armor and breathtaking swords made by master craftsmen. As history worked its way closer to the 20th century, however, the horrors of conflict became more apparent and relentless.
What touched me most deeply in recent wars was a replica Kamikaze airplane. It was suspended graciously from the ceiling, a delicate Sakura blossom on the tip, a round red sun behind. I could sense the vulnerability and resolved determination of those highly intelligent, acutely aware young men, consciously flying to their deaths.
I thought of today’s terrorists and wondered what contrasts and parallels will be found as research opens up some of the unanswered complexities of past and current wars stemming from people’s troubling beliefs and actions.
Yasukuni Jingu is indeed a very meaningful Japanese memorial.
(1) Even though the friend who told me about his meaningful visit to Yasukuni Shrine equating it with the Budou Mind, other Japanese friends challenged that belief. They pointed out that the Budou Mind existed long before Yasukuni Shrine was built. And in fact, its purpose was in direct contrast to it.
The Budou Mind has been used for centuries for physical, mental, and spiritual training. The Boshin War ended the rule of the Shogunate, ushering in the Meiji Era in 1868. At that time Japan wanted to reestablish the Emperor system and become more like the West. She wanted to do away with traditional, “outdated” forms of military and mental preparedness that the Budou training represented. Therefore, the fine art of Budou was downplayed in order for Japan to become more “forward thinking” and to “catch up” with Western powers.
More specifically, Yasukuni Shrine is devoted to Japanese who fought and died for the Empire of Japan, which existed from 1868 to 1947. That is, from the reestablishment of the Emperor system in the Meiji Era through the Taishou and part of the Showa Periods.
Other buildings in that complex honor non-Japanese who served Japan. And yet another building commemorates all those who died in WWII, no matter their nationality. There is also a museum that depicts the history of conflicts in this archipelago for over 2300 years.
By equating Yasukuni Jingu with the Budou Mind, my friend has blended Budou with Japanese nationalism. However, they are actually very distinct, even directly opposed to one another. In fact, in today’s Japan, religion and politics are separate. No Japanese Emperor has ever visited Yasukuni Shrine since WWII, although several Prime Ministers have.
In 1952, over 40 million’s signatures were gathered by Japanese people in order to acquit A, B and C class war criminals. The number of signatures were about half of the population at the time. Then the Japanese government decided that they weren’t criminals anymore at least in Japan. Although it doesn’t mean Asian neighbors think the same way and the Tokyo Trial is overturned, it is no doubt about the half of Japanese at that time forgave them. I personally think the militaristic government are responsible for the war as a top, but I want to value the decision by the Japanese people.