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August: The Return of Souls

August is peak summer season in Japan.  We can look forward to some of the most spectacular fireworks displays and festivals in the world, ...

Re-educating a Japanese man: Yasukuni

A Japanese client had asked me about sights and good places to eat in Tokyo. Instantly, two places came to mind, Yasukuni Shrine and the Yushukan.  No trip to Japan would be complete without a visit to these places; just visiting the alter of this sacred shrine wouldn't be enough and neither would it suffice the enormous cultural and spiritual significants attached to it. The legacy of the men and women who fought for the country are interred there, so it's much more than just a place to snap pictures of cute gargoyles and blonde haired kimono clad young Japanese girls. It's a place where the bereaved mourn their loss and a place I feel that all Japanese and tourist should visit at least once in their life time. I was asked, so I delivered. Welcome to Yasukuni, again.

It's not the first time I've taken Japanese people to their own shrine.  Since 2004 I've been re-institutionalizing Japanese about their history.  I have  taken females, high school students, and even business men to Yasukuni - all Japanese. Yasukuni represents to me an enormous piece of world history, not just Japanese history that's gone missing in academia, a piece of history shared by both of our countries;  two men who would've fought to defend their country had they been called to serve, and two men who were spared such misery by destiny can now walk in peace together down that  yellow autumn lane full of dead autumnal beauty...amongst the pain and the guilt and the shame. 

Many ordinary Japanese know little about this place, but the ones who do know,  and who have come to terms with the war and its aftermath have come away from this shrine with a deeper and richer understanding of themselves and the sacrifices made by their countrymen and women in uniform. I thought to myself this would be a great way we both could share a bit of history between our two countries without all the other shallow talk over nonsense topics.

After arriving we headed through those enormous gates adorned with the emblem of the imperial seal called "Kiku" in Japanese. As we approached the main alter I could see yellow leaves falling from the trees and resting along the pathway leading up to the offering box like a warm golden energy. We shared a moment of silence there, heads bowed, then headed over to the Yushukan, a war museum, perhaps the the most thorough and well planned out war museum I have ever visited, aside from the Korean War Museum in Seoul. My client was fascinated by all of the history and exhibits that were on display. The thousands of names of the fallen, both men and women - all Japanese. The artillery and bullets along with the shrapnel were all there.  Remains of old soldiers uniforms and diaries, and other memorabilia, which were all on display. He like I was moved because we were in a museum that honored its own people, not condemned them.   

After spending about an hour or two in the Yushukan (which I did not take a picture of) we decided we had had enough. The sense of loss there was enormous and required time to digest just the basic historical points that so many ordinary people know very little about.   I am lucky. My client is lucky. I wonder how many of us expats and Japanese alike can realize that...? Why do people come to Japan? I know why I came. Do you...? This is Japan, I hope it never changes.

I was astounded at how curious he was and the level of interest he showed.   Yasukuni is a piece of history that too many Japanese have missed out on.  I remember back in 2004 when I first visited, there were hardly any people visiting this shrine.   It wasn't until former prime minister Koizumi started making his yearly pilgrimages there that the shrine became extremely popular to visit.  Now the place is flooded with Japanese on August the 15th.   In order to forgive, one must know the truth of their history.    The judicial martyrs who  were convicted by an all white courtroom were the scapegoats for the war.   For my Japanese client hearing this come from me was astounding because he had never had such an education before.   All he understood was white worship and peace taught to him by The Board of Education.   After that day he was reawakened.   It is time for the Japanese to be re-awakened.


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