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April 12, 2004

Yasukuni Shrine

Most of Shinto priests I know of seem to be in favour of Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, despite the fact that it was judge unconstitutional by an Japanese court last week.

Priests claim that visiting Yasukuni Shrine is a tradition rather than a religion. And that in any case, even if it were somewhat religious, it is quite normal for any head of state to uphold the religion of the country. In the US for example, the oath of allegience is made upon the bible and bank notes are printed with the words "In God we Trust." I expect that one could collect religious acts peformed by every head of state of every country in the world.

Admittedly the act of swearing on a bible is somewhat different to praying at a shrine to dead war heros but the issue at stake was the unconstitutional nature of the Prime Minister being invovled in religion. 

It is in this regard that shrine priests are inclined to disagree with the ruling or, if the constitution is so worded as to rule out acts of this kind, to want to throw out the constitution as some poisonous duff foisted upon Japan after a recent war defeat. Poisonous because, if you outlaw a nations' religion, or make it so tabuu that those in public office are not allowed to take part in any way, then that will help to destroy the influence that the religion has upon the populace, possibly to negative effect.

I think that my Shrine priest aquaintances have a point.

First of all the line between tradition and religion is very hazy. Is celebrating the new year, or Christmas religious? Is taking part in cherry blossom watching or watching Sumo religious?  Is getting married religious? Is upholding morality religious? Or even is being sane religious?! I think that my belief in the existance of my identity is predicated on my belief in the existance of god. In the extreme, then, one might claim that anyone that behaves as if they have an ongoing identity is behaving in a religious way.

I think that in a lot of countries there is a a hazy line between what is acceptable for a politician to do and what is not. If the UK prime minister Blair started preaching on the merits of a particular Christian denomination then he would soon be out on his ear. But if he observes Christmas celebrations or Easter celebrations then people do not complain.

Personally I think that the Japanese should dump their constitution and allow Japanese politicians to be a little more invovled in "religion."

However I do have misgivings towards Yasukuni. It strikes me that Yasukuni is a new religion that was very much a part of Japanese aspirations to bring Asia under one Japanese roof. At the very least, since it is rather like a German prime minister saluting before a swastika - Yasukuni Shrine was a central image of the pre 1945 regime - it is clear that Asian neighbours are not going to be happy about the Prime Minister's visits. I would prefer it if the Prime Minister remembered the war dead by worshipping a mountain cherry tree*.


Incidentally the Prime Minister is inspired by the kamikaze fighter pilots some of whom died hoping to be enshrined at Yasukuni. I have mentioned before, rumour has it that the Prime minister's favourite book is a collection of letters and memorabilia by fighter pilots written before they took the plunge. ("Aah, Douki no Sakura" - also the name of a war song and meaning "Aah, fellow cherry blossom of the same spring")


The first kamikaze mission was called "Yamazakura," or "mountain cherry tree," apparently, after the poem my Motoori Norinaga:


If someone asks about the ancient spirit of Japan,
It is the flowers of the mountain cherry tree that are fragrant
@in the rising sun.  

You can send a letter of support or complaint to Prime Minister Koizumi here.

Posted by timtak at 06:41 AM | Comments (1)