August 15, 2008

Yasukuni Shrine

August 15th is the day that the Japanese remember the end of World War Two, and each year the enormous Yasukuni Shrine is the focus of controversy and media attention. Visits by former Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, despite protests from China and Korea made sure that the shrine was featured on the news worldwide. The present incumbent, however, stayed away this year.

It should be remembered that for most Japanese people the shrine serves as a place to honour soldiers who have died in battle for their country (a bit like the Cenotaph), though the war museum in the grounds and the fact that among the enshrined soldiers are some A-listed war criminals, means that it is a controversial place.

Every year on August 15th, anti-war left wingers, nationalist right wingers and war veterans gather at the shrine trying to out shout each other with their rousing speeches. The right wing groups also drive around in their black buses daubed with slogans and flags with nationalist songs blaring from their speakers. All quite a circus.

I popped along to have a look during my lunch break today in the searing heat, and whilst I missed the face offs between the left wingers and right wingers, there were TV crews aplenty and masses of people going to pay their respects.
Some of the veterans looked as though they were happy to go back in time and don their uniform.
An out of tune voice and a total lack of skill on the shamisen wasn't going to stop this guy singing his heart out.
Police talk with some flag toting teenage thugs (on bicycles) outside the gates of the shrine.

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