Thursday, July 11, 2013

Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is keen on visiting soon the Yasukuni Shrine. He believes, as noted in the translation below, that his recent visits to foreign war cemeteries are equivalent to paying homage to Imperial Japan's war dead. And he laments that there is an "asymmetry" in that foreign leaders do not visit Japan's war dead.

Abe consistently gives long-winded non-answers preceded by references to what other countries do for their war dead when questioned whether or not he will visit Yasukuni. A simple no would do. His intent, however, is to say yes. When is now a parlor game.

Lanterns at Yasukuni
In the next two months, he has two choices to visit Yasukuni, a private Shinto Shrine where the spirits of Japan's named war-
Lanterns at the Yasukan
dead, mostly military, are enshrined. Yasukuni was created to embed a state religion tied to the Emperor. Most important, Yasukuni is to glorify Japan's selective war dead and honor them for their sacrifice to the Emperor.

Best known among the days that Abe may select to visit Yasukuni is the non-festival day, August 15, which is the anniversary of Japan's cessation of hostilities toward the Allies. True conservatives in Japan are not supporters of the Alliance. Some observers think to lessen the annoyance to Americans, however, he will chose to visit the Shrine a day or so earlier.

The other is this week, July 13-16, that are the official Shinto festival days of Mitama Matsuri (Souls/Spirt Festival). Called the Lantern Festival, it was created in 1947 as a mid-summer remembrance to the war dead and positioned to dovetail and ressemble the Buddhist Obon summer festival honoring one's ancestors. Abe and most other prominent politicians of all parties send commemorative lanterns to the Shrine.

[For more background see Japan's Yasukuni Shrine: Place of Peace Or Place of Conflict? Regional Politics of History and Memory in East Asia (Google eBook).]

More important, July 13 it is the festival day for the Chinreisha (Spirit Pacifying Shrine), which is a small shrine off to the left (south) of the main shrine [honden] at Yasukuni. Erected in 1965, this structure houses (or welcomes) the spirits of all the war-dead (unnamed) since 1853 that are not enshrined at the honden. This means both Japanese and non-Japanese who who died fighting against the Emperor. A visit to this part of Yasukuni to honor these kami can balance a visit to the honden. As Professor John Breen, one of the world's leading authorities on Shinto notes, the Chinreisha "has the capacity to recall a more nuanced past, a past of perpetrators and of victims, of winners and losers, of horror as well as heroism."  To the best of my knowledge, no Japanese official has done this. Until October 2006, the Chinreisha was fenced off and inaccessible.

Abe, however, ignores that he has another option. As friends of Abe reminded Americans on Japan has a memorial day on the last Monday of May. Since 1959, members of the Imperial Family and national leaders gather at Chidorigafuchi for a ceremony honoring Japan's unidentified dead from their 14 years of war in Asia.  The focus is the military dead, but as all the collected remains are unidentified, it is impossible to separate the combatants from the noncombatants.

The Health Labor and Welfare Ministry oversees the collections of remains of the unknown throughout Japan's former battlefields, arranges for their ashes to be entombed collectively at Chidorgafuchi, and organizes the national ceremonies. This public park, steps away from Yasukuni and the Imperial Palace, is managed by a non-governmental organization, in cooperation with the Environmental Ministry. Different religious ceremonies and rites are held throughout the year at the ossuary.

Abe at Chidorigaifuchi May 27, 2013
Every year new ashes are added to the crypt. Abe, himself, collected remains on Iwoto (Iwo Jima) this past April, which were deposited in May at Chidorigaifuchi.

On May 27th, the remains of 1,628 unidentified Japanese who died fighting for Imperial Japan during World War II were laid to rest in a memorial service at the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery. The remains were from Iwo Jima and Russia. With the addition, the number of the war dead honored in the cemetery came to 358,260. Princess Takamado attended the ceremony. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Norihisa Tamura, Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera, Minister of the Environment Nobuteru Ishihara, representatives from bereaved family organizations, and foreign ambassadors attended.

As you can see from this video, the Prime Minister is decidedly uncomfortable at the ceremony. He spends his required ten minutes and rushes off to his next appointment.

Abe in Burma
Social Media
Most interesting is how Abe's staff handled his social media posts. Abe’s Chidorigafuchi visit is noted on the official Kantei websites in both Japanese and English (albeit without the video link).

However, the staff significantly downplays the visit on his three associated Facebook pages. A post detailing the visit to Chidorigafuchi on May 27th complete with a picture was removed from Kantei’s Japanese-language Facebook page by June 1. In its place, is a picture of the Prime Minister with his back to the camera before the black memorial tablet at Kazuo Nakamura's grave located near the Burma Peace Memorial. A fictionalized account of Nakamura, as Imperial Japanese Army "Lance Corporal Mizuma," during Japan's surrender in Burma is the theme of  the famous anti-war book and movie The Burmese Harp. Abe visited this memorial and cemetery on May 25th.
PM Noda

There was never a mention of the Chidorigaifuchi visit on the Kantei's English-language Facebook page. Instead, for May 27th is the same picture and description of  Prime Minister Abe before Nakamura's memorial tablet at Burma's Peace Memorial in the Yeway cemetery that holds the remains of Japanese who died both before and during the War.

On Abe’s personal Japanese-language Facebook page for May 27th is a photo of Abe and his wife bowing at the Burma Peace Memorial in the Yeway Japanese Cemetery. As noted above, this took place on the 25th. At the end of the post there is a one sentence mention of the Chidorigaifuchi visit on the 27th: Today, a worship ceremony was held in Chidorigafuchi cemetery for the war dead; remains have been returned starting with Iwo Jima, Sakhalin, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Myanmar, Palau, Eastern New Guinea, Bismarck, Solomon Islands, Mariana Islands, and the former Soviet Union and an offering has been made for each.

It does not appear that Prime Minister Abe visited the Taukkyan War Cemetery, a memorial to Allied soldiers from the British Commonwealth who died in battle in Burma. In January, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso had visited the Yeway Cemetery. Together, Abe and Aso are setting the precedent for visiting Japan's war dead at memorials and cemeteries in Asia.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda worshiped and honored Japan's war dead on August 15, 2012 at Chidorigafuchi (see bottom of page).

For the translation of “Asymmetry” Should Be Resolved on Leaders’ Pilgrimage to War Memorial
By: Megumi Nishikawa, Mainichi Shimbun, 6/28/13 Click next page


“Asymmetry” Should Be Resolved on Leaders’ Pilgrimage to War Memorial
By: Megumi Nishikawa, Mainichi Shimbun, 6/28/13

In six months, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has developed vigorous summit diplomacy, but it is interesting that he seems to make time in his agenda to commemorate the spirits of the dead on his visits to foreign countries.

According to newspaper reports of the Prime Minister’s days, in 5 out of 13 countries he offered flowers at unknown soldiers’ tombs and memorial monuments. He also attended ceremonies of silent prayer. Beginning in February at Washington DC’s Arlington Cemetery, he continued to do this in Moscow, Russia (April); Ankara, Turkey (May); Yangon, Myanmar (May); and Warsaw, Poland (16th of June).

China and Korea have criticized visits to Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese officials, which enshrines Class A war criminals, as justification of the war. They believe that spirit worshiping seems to show evilness, political calculation, and a denial of any disputes between the countries.

The Prime Minister represents Japan and bows his head to the people that have fallen for the countries he visits. There is a symbolic implication in these solemn rituals and vows of accommodating and peaceful friendships. However, as stated previously in this column on April 26th, this ritual is not returned by the international community for Japanese fallen soldiers and war victims. Because the Yasukuni Shrine enshrined Class A war criminals in 1978, heads of state who have come to Japan since then have avoided stepping foot in the controversial shrine.

When U.S. President Reagan visited West Germany in 1985, he visited German soldiers’ tombs near the Luxembourg border at Prime Minister Kohl’s request. However, Nazi Schutzstaffel members had recently been buried there. Americans opposed the move and the U.S. Congress voted against visiting graves. Reagan also visited Jewish concentration camps, and the visits to the graves kept the balance. I don’t know of any other foreign head of state that would take these risks.

But foreign heads of state who come to Japan and don’t pay respects to Japanese fallen soldiers and civilian victims should not neglect Japan.

The Bonn North Cemetery Memorial, where German soldiers of the two great wars are buried and where heads of foreign countries paid respect, was a temporary place. Additionally, after West and East Germany united, [Neue Wache] a national memorial for the war dead was officially established in Berlin.

Until there is a resolution to the Yasukuni problem, shouldn’t we establish a temporary place where foreign heads of states can pay their respects? For example, Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery could be used as such a place.

The Emperor, Empress and the Prime Minister of Japan all attend ceremonies for the fallen in foreign countries, so we must end the asymmetry of foreign heads of states not doing the same.

Addendum by Translator:

Bonn North Cemetery (Gedenkstätte Bonner Nordfriedhof)

Germany made Bonn North Cemetery a makeshift memorial so that foreign dignitaries could pay homage to victims of war, including soldiers. Bonn North Cemetery includes the graves of three Indian artillerymen of the Army of Occupation.

The majority of First World War Commonwealth war graves in Germany were moved into four permanent cemeteries after the war, including one in Berlin. However, a few graves could not be moved on religious grounds or for other reasons and they remain in their original locations in German military and civil cemeteries.

Neue Wache Memorial, Berlin

In 1993 the German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, declared that the Neue Wache including a sculpture by German artist Käthe Kollowitz titled Pietá was to become the a part of the "Zentrale Gedenkstätte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland" (central memorial of Germany) which meant that it would be the national memorial for the victims of World War II in Germany (It is called "The Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Victims of War and Tyranny"). This decision was not uncontroversial, especially for the Jewish community, but also for nationalists and conservatives.

1 comment:


    The new English website has been uploaded.


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