• Sat
  • Aug 30, 2014
  • Updated: 12:47pm

Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine, located in Tokyo, Japan, is dedicated to over 2,466,000 Japanese soldiers and servicemen who died fighting on behalf of the Emperor of Japan in the last 150 years. It also houses one of the few Japanese war museums dedicated to World War II.The shrine is at the center of an international  controversy by honoring war criminals convicted by a post World War II court including 14 'Class A' war criminals. Japanese politicians, including prime ministers and cabinet members have paid visits to Yasukuni Shrine in recent years which caused criticism and protests from China, Korea, and Taiwan. 

CommentInsight & Opinion

Abe's Yasukuni visit shows Japan has no remorse over wartime aggression

Song Zhe says Japan's relations with China and the rest of Asia cannot start afresh unless and until its leaders show true remorse for - and accurate understanding of - its wartime acts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 January, 2014, 11:33am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 January, 2014, 3:30am

Hong Kong, known as the "Pearl of the East", is a world city of prosperity. One could hardly imagine what happened here 70 years ago, when the city was ravaged by war. Hong Kong was under Japanese invasion and occupation for three years and eight months, during Japan's war on the region.

In those years, the suffering caused by Japan's invasion and expansion went far beyond a few cities. In the war against Japanese aggression, tens of millions of people lost their lives in China; the casualties and loss of property were countless. The cruelty of Japanese invaders covered almost the whole of Asia, and the suffering inflicted on the people of victim countries was beyond estimation.

Nearly 70 years have passed since the end of that war. But Asia will not be able to turn this page of history if the aggressor does not have an accurate understanding of this wartime aggression and has no feelings of remorse.

How to understand history is always a major political issue in Japan's relations with China, South Korea and other war victims in Asia.

In Japan, the consensus regarding remorse for past aggressions is not as broad as in Germany. But Japan's leader, as an embodiment of the will of the state, cannot say it is a matter of "internal affairs" and use this as an excuse to explain his behaviour with regard to understanding history. Because of this, the decision whether or not to visit the Yasukuni shrine, where convicted second world war criminals are honoured and worshipped, is not only a sensitive issue in Japan; it is also an issue of major importance watched closely by the people in the victim countries in Asia, and by the international community.

The rolling back of history by Japanese right-wingers offends the whole world’s conscience

One year after Shinzo Abe became prime minister of Japan for the second time, he visited the Yasukuni shrine, with no regard for the strong opposition from the Chinese government, bringing to the fore this major political issue after seven years of rest. Abe claimed afterwards that he made the visit out of remorse for the past and for "continued peace".

Such thinking can never be a justification for the people of the victim countries in Asia and in terms of international justice. This has been proven by the international community's strong reaction to Abe's behaviour.

Yasukuni was seen as a symbol of dedication to the emperor. As such, it played a role in boosting morale for invasion and expansion.

To this day, war criminals are glorified as "heroes" and "martyrs". In the shrine, past invasions are distorted, militarism is beautified and an absurd historical outlook - such as invasion having a higher purpose - is trumpeted.

But justice comes from the human conscience. The international community has long ago drawn its conclusions about the crimes of Japanese militarism and the responsibilities of war criminals. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East handed down just judgments and sentences on 14 Class-A war criminals; they were the leaders who waged war and on their hands was the blood of the people in the victim countries. They were Asia's Nazis. The rolling back of history on this particular issue by Japanese right-wingers offends the whole world's conscience.

Abe should know the sensitive nature of the Yasukuni issue. Still, he took this adventurist step. His actions show he is not sincere in his remorse for this wartime aggression, and he lacks an accurate historical outlook, which is necessary to see sense. His so-called remorse for the past and commitment to relations with China are a disguise. Through his actions, he is in fact questioning the legitimacy of the Tokyo Trials. Abe's veneration of Class-A war criminals is a sacrilege to the souls of those who sacrificed their lives in the fight against fascism in Asia and elsewhere.

If we also consider that, in the past year, Abe has been talking much about amending the constitution and about a military build-up, we cannot but feel worried. Where will Abe lead Japan? Can Japan live in peace with its neighbours? Will past tragedies be repeated in Asia?

One should take history as a mirror and look to the future. This is not to continue hatred, but to prevent a repeat of past tragedies. We hope Abe will have a correct understanding of, and deep remorse for, Japan's military aggression and colonial history, change course and win the trust of his Asian neighbours, rather than slipping further down the opposite road.

Today, peace and development are ideals to be found deep in the hearts of the Asian people. Asia on the whole is prosperous and growing. But the attempt of a few people in Japan to roll back the history of aggression is a countercurrent that should not be overlooked, because peace does not come easily.

Song Zhe is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' commissioner in Hong Kong


Related topics

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

Beware of historical revisionism by glorifiers of the Anglos. Major events of WW2 clearly show that the Battle of Stalingrad, now renamed Volgograd, was what broke the back of the mighty Wehrmacht of the Third Reich.
Reader ngsw:
Of course, you're right about Genghis Khan not being Chinese. His grandson, Kublai Khan, not him, terminated the reign of South Song. While administering as Yuan Emperor, he was assimilated into the Chinese culture.
Similar thing happened to Manchus who ruled China during Qing Dynasty.
Tang emperors that ruled China for almost 300 years from 618 AD were descendants of Turkic people. Their reign brought about a golden age of Chinese poetry, which has no peer in all Western culture to date.
Despite repeated subjugations to foreign powers, the indomitable resilience of the Chinese spirit explains partly both catholicity and diversity - not to be taken as an oxymoron - of the Chinese culture.
Whereas Abrahamic faith spread like wild fire fueled by conquests and genocides, they never took root in China. The assimilation of foreign conquistadors into the culture of the vanquished is historically truly amazing.
While brutalities of Imperial Japan remain traumatic, PRC must use them only as object lessons of threats to the nation’s survival. Holding Japan accountable for electing militarists must not be confused with ill will toward the Japanese people, who are only pawns in potential military confrontations provoked by vestigial criminal minds such as Abe.
Democracy is about rule by the fickle-minded. What is trendy today is anathema tomorrow. If China applies economic pressure steadily without sounding shrill to an average Japanese, Abe will soon be toast.
If we must, we must.
It would help matters greatly if the author or his puppet masters further up the string would give us an idea what, in their minds, would actually constitute sincere remorse on the part of Japan then.

Given the many times Japanese governments have expressed remorse (see ****en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_war_apology_statements_issued_by_Japan), China's constant clamouring about this, is purely the milking of the sad and sorry events that took place in the 1930s and early 1940s. Worst of all, it only makes it more, not less, attractive for nationalist right-wing leaders like Shinzo Abe to visit the Yasukuni Shrine in order to play the stand-up-to-China card to their electorate.

While I also deem it inappropriate for the likes of Abe to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, it is hard to imagine anything Japan could actually do that would stop China's endless game of playing the perennial victim. If there is, let Chinese officials state what precisely that would be. Then the two countries could start a more constructive dialogue about that and negotiate something that would put this issue to rest.
Reader jpinst:
Your postings in this column reaffirm absolutely, positively that you are either a liar, or a moron, or an illiterate, or all of the above.
I won't stoop to dignify your despicable, malicious calumny against China and her people with a rebuttal.
I am surprised to see that the introduction of the Yasukuni shrine was very informational; most of the time Yasukuni is summed up as being only a shrine that honors war criminals.
However, the view that China (and Korea) take on why Japan's politicians visit the shrine is very unfortunate. I recommend expanding your viewpoint on why the shrine is important to Japan: ****www.rappler.com/world/specials/47581-kuchma-the-serenity-of-yasukuni
The war was 70 years ago! Those people who started/participated in it are all dead. OTOH, The world should insist that China apologize for Genghis Khan's aggression against Asia during the Yuan dynasty.
You should stop foisting falsehoods about China on readers in this publication. Yuan Dynasty came after Genghis Khan.
Those who take exacting care to nurse every historical slight and grievance perpetrated by the Japanese seem rather less forthcoming when it comes to acknowledging which country defeated the Japanese and liberated China.
Not all are dead, and the Japanese haven't learned a little out of it. Who ever is not learning from his past and mistakes will probably do it again sometimes.
ah, yes. A little more education would be not too bad for you. Especially in history.




SCMP.com Account