Pop superstar Justin Bieber thought he was going to just another Tokyo tourist attraction when he visited the Yasukuni Shrine last week. He faithfully recorded the event for his adoring fans by posting pictures on his Instagram account. Shortly after, to his bewilderment, the criticism began pouring in, mostly from Chinese and South Korean followers outraged by his trip to the controversial memorial to Japan's war dead. He shouldn't have been surprised; the heartthrob for millions of teenage girls around the world is, after all, no ordinary tourist.
The Canadian singer has sold more than 15 million albums. He has 51 million Twitter followers. Beliebers - as his fans are known - hang on his every word and track his every move. Yet, as when he wrote flippant comments in the guest book at the home of iconic Nazi concentration camp victim Anne Frank and disrespected the Argentinian flag by kicking two thrown by fans off a stage during a concert in Buenos Aires, he has walked into another controversy with the Yasukuni visit.
Bieber, 20, has been performing professionally since he was aged 13. His quick success and fame has kept him in the recording studio, on stage and before the cameras; vital education has been missed in the name of making money. If he was not so famous he could be excused for the odd faux pas. But the fact he is looked up to by so many adolescents and teenagers and has an army of people around him able to advise makes errors of judgment like a public appearance at Yasukuni, where Class A war criminals are remembered, inexcusable.
Atrocities committed in Asia before and during the second world war by Japan's military understandably make each visit to Yasukuni by Japanese public figures contentious, particularly for Chinese and Koreans. Pop culture may have little regard for such matters, but that does not mean its stars should be oblivious to their surroundings when in other countries. Bieber could have kept his northeast Asian fan base enamoured with him had he done what every tourist should do when going to a new destination: a little research.