Yasakuni Shrine, Japanese Nationalism, and the Constitution

The Yasukuni shrine to Japan’s war dead, more specifically to those who gave their lives for the Japanese emperor, has long been a center of controversy in postwar Japan. Now it becomes the focus of a series of judicial challenges to its constitutional legitimacy. This article discusses court actions arising from Prime Minister Koizumi’s formal visits to pay homage at the shrine on August 13, 2001 and April 21, 2002 and the proposal to create an alternative national site for mourning the war dead that emerged as an attempt to defuse the crisis. The continuing relevance of the problem is underlined by the latest visit to Yasukuni undertaken by Koizumi on January 14, 2003. Like his previous visits, it created an uproar in Japan and drew immediate protests from Seoul and Beijing. Tanaka Nobumasa, ‘Yasukuni Soshô ga tou shushô no sanpai’, (The Prime Minister’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine contested in court), Kinyobi, August 23, 2002.

Tanaka Nobumasa is a well-known freelance Japanese journalist. An earlier article by him, ‘What is the “Yasukuni Problem”?’, Sekai, No. 679 and 680 (September and October 2000, is available at the ‘Japan in the World’ web site: (http://www.iwanami.co.jp/jpworld/top.html)

I. Lawsuits Challenge Prime Ministerial Visits to Yasukuni Shrine

Lawsuits challenging Prime Minister Koizumi Junichirô’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine began to be heard in February 2002 in Osaka District Court and elsewhere; this fall the hearings swing into full stride. In September a filing is anticipated for the first time in Okinawa, and further lawsuits are likely. The plaintiffs already number about 2,000 individuals, and these suits constitute the broadest challenge yet to Yasukuni. Half of the plaintiffs are Koreans and Chinese residing in Japan, Korea, and the United States. The suits provide food for thought about mourning the dead, which in the postwar years has repeatedly cropped up as the “Yasukuni problem.” In the current Yasukuni suits, Asian victims of the war are challenging for the first time the involvement of the Japanese government in Yasukuni Shrine, which celebrates the war dead as “heroic spirits.” For its part, the government, on the occasion of the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law [Oct. 2001], began looking into a national site for mourning the war dead with provision too for “new war dead.” On July 26 and 27 in Saga [Shikoku], the 15th National Interchange on Lawsuits over Separation of Church and State took place, and a large number of participants attended. Reasons for the increased interest included the handing down of the decision by the Saga District Court (April 12) that for the first time found the practice of funding shrines with local government funds unconstitutional; and on the opposite side, the Supreme Court’s determination in two suits over the separation of church and state relating to the emperor-the Ôita suit against the Rice-transplanting Rite [Nukiho no gi] and the Kagoshima suit against the Great Thanksgiving Festival [Daijôsai]. Still, what most stirred interest in this interchange was the wholesale filing of suits alleging the unconstitutionality of Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine in five courts-Yamaguchi/Kyushu (Fukuoka District Court), Shikoku (Matsuyama District Court), Asia (Osaka District Court), Tokyo (Tokyo District Court), and Chiba (Chiba District Court).

As if to plow his way through the strong resistance both at home and abroad to a visit anticipated for August 15, Koizumi visited Yasukuni on August 13, 2001, in the evening. Later that year, during November and December, private citizens at home and abroad, families of war dead, religious leaders, war victims and others filed suit against Koizumi and the state in five district courts across the nation, including various demands: that such visits be declared unconstitutional, that they be stopped, and that reparations be paid. But on a Sunday morning, April 21, 2002 Koizumi visited the shrine again. At Yasukuni, where more than 2,460,000 war dead are enshrined, the spring festival lasts from April 21 to April 23. The spring and fall festivals are Yasukuni’s largest religious observances. Why did Koizumi, who was fully aware of domestic and international criticism from victims of the war and from the families of war dead, make this second visit? More important still, does Koizumi’s shrine visit befit the government’s duty not to repeat Japan’s colonialism/aggression and not to lead the masses at home and abroad a second time into meaningless death?

The five lawsuits contain several new elements not part of earlier Yasukuni lawsuits:

* In the lawsuit filed in Osaka District Court (639 plaintiffs), about 120 resident Chinese, resident Koreans, and Korean family members in South Korea and the United States are taking part. Because it attempts to address the “Yasukuni problem” from the point of view of war guilt, it has been termed the Asia lawsuit. In addition, it makes Yasukuni Shrine a defendant for the first time and demands that the shrine not permit visits of the prime minister (the Shikoku lawsuit does likewise). As of its second presentation (July 9), the Tokyo lawsuit has 724 Korean plaintiffs; in all, domestic and foreign, the plaintiffs number 1057. That lawsuit also includes as defendant Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintarô, who on August 15, 2002 visited Yasukuni for the third year in a row. And in this lawsuit the Diet, too, is charged with legislative non-feasance for not passing a law barring prime ministerial visits to Yasukuni.

* The Asia suit and the Shikoku suit, as well as the Tokyo suit, demand the prohibition of visits of the prime minister to Yasukuni (Governor Ishihara is the object of the same demand). In its text, the Asia suit points out that the prime minister did not heed the voices of opposition and doubt at home and abroad and acted in the face of judicial judgments of unconstitutionality (in the 1991 Iwate suit against the constitutionality of Yasukuni, the Sendai High Court found it unconstitutional); and that, given such acts on the part of Yasukuni as calling for prime ministerial visits, there is great danger that the visits will be repeated in the future. If the prime minister visits, the plaintiffs’ freedom of thought and conscience and personal religious rights will be harmed once more. As reasons for stopping these shrine visits, it argues that these damages suffered by the plaintiffs are invasions of the rights belonging to the realm of individual religious freedom that form the core of human rights, and those rights cannot be fully protected merely by demanding compensation once a prime ministerial visit has taken place. Here we see the strong desire of the plaintiffs that the visits to Yasukuni Shrine not be repeated.

But on April 21, 2002 Koizumi visited the shrine again. Most of the media reported his visit as “sudden,” “surprise,” “a coup de main.” Koizumi arrived at Yasukuni at 8:30 a. m.; his visit to the main shrine came at about 9:30. Why did the prime minister, scheduled to the minute for such matters as electioneering for the special election in the second Wakayama district, wait an hour at Yasukuni? According to the Asahi Shimbun (April 22, 2002), reports of the prime minister’s visit to Yasukuni reached the media after 9 o’clock. If Koizumi planned from the first to visit the shrine as a private individual, he would have done so quietly, without notifying the media. But after “wasting one hour waiting for the army of TV cameras to arrive, Koizumi made his appearance in the corridor leading to the main shrine.” In other words, Koizumi actively conveyed to the public that this was a “prime ministerial visit.” Not only did Koizumi sign the shrine guest book as “Prime Minister Koizumi Junichirô” and present a wreath in the name of the prime minister, but using the media he made it look like a “prime ministerial visit” and gave the world the impression that for the state Yasukuni Shrine was a special religious establishment. Moreover, after the visit Koizumi published “Thoughts on a visit to Yasukuni Shrine” and made clear that there had been careful preparations. But a dilemma lurks on the prime minister’s side. If he claims that it was not a private, unofficial, visit, then it is clear that it butts up against the principle of separation of church and state. But, on the other hand, if he denies absolutely that it was a “prime ministerial visit,” then he will be criticized by organizations such as the Nihon izokukai (Japan Association of Bereaved Families) that hoped that the mourning would be official. Wearing the mask of a private individual, Prime Minister Koizumi makes an official visit, but for the five Yasukuni suits he denies that the visit is an official, public duty.

Koizumi first reported last summer’s visit to Yasukuni to the Nihon izokukai. Having worked for a long time to get the state to support Yasukuni Shrine, that association had urged the prime minister and other cabinet officials to make “official visits,” but lately the term “official” has receded into the background, even disappeared, and the request has come to be simply for “prime ministerial visits.” Moreover, with Koizumi’s “2001 summer visit,” the association’s focus began to shift to the “regularization/institutionalization” of prime ministerial visits. In fact, on this year’s agenda of the association, the first item is to “further the movement to continue/regularize the shrine visits of the prime minister and other cabinet officials.” Koizumi made his second visit just after the association settled on this agenda. Koga Makoto, head of the association (and Diet member), welcomed Koizumi’s visit as a “splendid and wonderful act” and said it “represented a step forward toward regularization of the visits” (Association Newsletter No. 716). Koizumi’s second shrine visit had as its aim a step forward in regularizing “prime ministerial visits.” It is known that Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro’s “official visit” on August 15, 1985 led to fierce pressure from China and other Asian countries that forced the cancellation of a visit anticipated for August 1986. In fact, at that time Diet Member Fujinami Takao (chair of the Diet Affairs Committee) recommended strongly to (then) Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Watanabe Hideo a second “official visit,” in these words: “Do it twice and it becomes ‘institutionalized.’ So we should make a second official visit” (Mainichi shimbun, July 2, 2001).

The history of Article 9 and the Self Defense Forces eloquently testifies that even if an act is unconstitutional, piling up faits accomplis has a bearing on institutionalization/regularization. At the press conference following his second visit, Koizumi said explicitly “once a year,” and that was because he was aiming less at avoiding a visit on August 15 than at institutionalizing “prime ministerial visits.” If these visits pile up, they can lead to the destruction of the core human rights of the Constitution’s Articles 19 ["Freedom of thought and conscience shall not be violated"] and 20 ["Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all"]. How the country mourns its war dead has an intimate connection to human rights. On August 15, 87 bereaved filed suit in Matsuyama District Court demanding that Koizumi’s visit to the shrine’s Reidaisai be found unconstitutional and that shrine visits be stopped. Many bereaved respond either by feeling that prime ministerial visits to Yasukuni constitute state mourning or by calling such visits only right. However, even within the lower reaches of the Nihon izokukai, there are members-few in number, to be sure-with differences of opinion and thinking, opposing the prime minister’s visits or registering dissent; the feelings and consciousness of the bereaved are not necessarily uniform. There are as many feelings–of resentment, sadness, anger at the deaths of the countless war dead–as there are war dead. And the same holds true among the bereaved.

Up till now, we have heard at length such voices of the bereaved-for example, the widow living in Kantô whose husband died in the Imphal campaign. She says, “My husband a god in Yasukuni all this time? Never gave it a thought.” Or the woman whose older brother died in the Midway battle, who criticized the prime minister’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine: “It’s taking advantage for the second time of the dead enshrined there.” These people cannot accept the prime minister’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine as an act to avoid ever repeating that mistake again; to them it appears not mourning for the dead but a contrivance to cover up the state’s war guilt.

How do the bereaved who are plaintiffs in the Yasukuni lawsuits react to the political/religious style of Koizumi, who claims to visit Yasukuni Shrine “to express appreciation for the dead,” to offer state mourning? In the first pleading of the Kyushu/Yamaguchi suit filed in Fukuoka District Court, five people made statements. Comparing the statements of two of these bereaved, we hear their thoughts and views on Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni. Andô Norihide, father of Andô Hideo (born 1930), died as a Rear Admiral in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Hideo’s uncle, Army Lt. Nonaka Shirô, drafted the “Declaration of Resolve” of the rebellious troops in the Feb. 26 incident [1936] and immediately afterwards committed suicide at the Army Minister’s Residence: “I was only 5 when my uncle committed suicide, but even now I remember clearly being shown his blood-soaked uniform.” Andô spoke of this memory quietly, and he had two other uncles-one a colonel with the Kwantung Army, the other at the end of the war captain of a kamikaze unit at Kanoya in Kagoshima: “We’re a military family through and through.” Andô became a typical army son and grew up in an atmosphere where he thought it was natural to live for the nation/for the emperor, that if he died he would be enshrined in Yasukuni. His father and his kamikaze uncle were both enshrined in Yasukuni. After the war Andô served for a long time as minister in the Baptist Church, and in the process he became aware of the role State Shinto had played before and during the war. Through involvement in particular with the pollution problems that were spawned after the war by the advance of Japanese conglomerates into Asia, he became acutely aware of how State Shinto had supported the history of the military invasion of Asia. The fact that father and uncle were enshrined in Yasukuni gradually became painful. So he testified: “No matter how you define Yasukuni, which stands in an indissoluble relation to prewar State Shinto, it serves to glorify war and the war dead.” If via prime ministerial visits to the shrine, state and Yasukuni join forces, “You’re killing my father and uncle once more.”

Again, Furuno Takenori (born 1930), who lost his father in the battle for Okinawa and his older brother in Eastern New Guinea, stated: “Brother and Father were enshrined in Yasukuni without the approval of their survivors. And the Class A war criminals blamed for the last war are enshrined there, tooÅ . For the survivors that is excruciating.” So Furuno can only think that the prime minister’s visit to Yasukuni does nothing to appease his father’s spirit. These words of the bereaved tell us that mourning the dead relates to how each one of the bereaved remembers the war and is not something that the state does by treating all war dead uniformly and mechanically.

On Feb. 22 in the first pleading of the Asia suit in Osaka District Court, three plaintiffs gave testimony. Among them was Kasahara Ryôken (born 1943), whose father died of disease in New Britain in the New Guinea islands in January 1944: “To become a sacrifice of the state and to be forced to die as a victimizer in a war of aggression, and then to be named a ‘heroic soul’ and praised and thanked-that makes use of the war dead to justify the state’s war crimes and evade the state’s guilt; it is to kill the war dead a second time.” For Kasahara, Koizumi’s statement during the visit that he was visiting Yasukuni in order to “show respect and appreciation” to the war dead was not mourning. This is because “the state was neither mourning nor making clear its guilt.” Thinking of his father who may have starved to death, Kasahara asked, “To honor and appreciate the war dead” whom the state left to die-”does the prime minister as chief of state have that ‘capacity’?”

How did Korean plaintiffs react to Koizumi’s visit to the shrine? Kim Gyon-sok, former impressed worker at Nihon kôkan (today steel giant NKK) and chair of the Association of Koreans Bereaved by the Pacific War, gave testimony that same day, Feb. 22. Most members of that association are in their 60s and, though impressed into Japan’s war of aggression, have received no reparations, either from the Japanese government or from the Japanese companies; many have relatives whose fate has still not been determined: “To begin with, Yasukuni enshrined them on its own initiative, without allowing the bereaved a choice. Do you understand the anguish of having both victims and victimized enshrined in the same place? And then one country’s prime minister paid a visit. That is to pour salt in the wounds. From an Asian viewpoint, for the prime minister of a state that calls itself a democracy to pay an official visit to the shrine at which our dead are enshrined as gods together with the ringleaders of Japan’s wars of aggression-what can that mean? One must say that it justifies the aggressive war that victimized so many Asian peoples.” The statement of the burly Kim seemed to stun the packed courtroom.

But in response to the fact that the plaintiffs in the Asia suit made Yasukuni a defendant, sixteen bereaved family members and former soldiers living in the Kansai area submitted an intervention in Osaka District Court on the side of Yasukuni. They asserted that “to have personal religious/racial rights attacked in court is to incur vast suffering,” and in the court on the third hearing of the Asia suit on July 12 (that intervention was heard in the same courtroom as the lawsuit), three of these bereaved gave testimony. It was noteworthy that one called herself a “Yasukuni wife” and revealed strong feelings of support for the prime minister’s visit to Yasukuni. Still, that very fact spoke eloquently to the fact that the feelings and consciousness of the bereaved are not uniform. On July 31 the Osaka District Court rejected the intervention, because, among other reasons, “the interests of the complainants are not affected.”

The text of the Shikoku suit heard in Matsuyama District Court states: “No matter what the purpose, it is not proper to glorify death.” This question transcends the “normal nationalism” that considers it common sense for the country to mourn those who died for the country. Kikuchi Masaaki (b. 1943), chief of the Shikoku plaintiffs group and priest in the Ôtani sect of Shin Buddhism, stated the conclusion he reached as a bereaved person with many bereaved among his own parishioners: “The state should return each of the dead to their own families.”

There are as many memories of those who died in the war among the bereaved and friends as there are war dead, so the forms of mourning must be just as numerous. Kikuchi says that mourning the dead should take place on a personal level; in offering gratitude and praise, the state treats all the dead alike, and Kikuchi asks, Can the state really mourn the dead?

II. A New National Site for Mourning the War Dead

Domestic and international criticism of Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine led to the establishment of a “Consultative Body on Mourning and Praying for Peace” (abbreviated title), a private body advisory to Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuda Yasuo; debate began ten months ago on the merits of a national site for mourning the war dead. The report is scheduled to be ready by year’s end [2002], but there is strong opposition to a national site for mourning. Booster groups have sprung up in support. But there are deep doubts about state involvement, no matter what the form, in mourning the war dead, and what lies ahead is unclear.

The consultative committee’s formal name is “Committee to Consider the State of Sites such as Cenotaphs to Mourn the Dead and Pray for Peace.” Its chair is Imai Takashi, chair of Shin nichitetsu (New Japan Steel), and it has nine members; it was set up December 19, 2001. On August 13, 2001, as if to plow his way through the strong resistance both at home and abroad, Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine, and in comments immediately thereafter, he said: “We need discussion of how to offer sincere mourning without stirring up domestic and foreign ill will.” Thus was the consultative committee formed.

The committee’s discussion of “mourning the dead and praying for peace” was not public, but its outlines, through the committee’s 6th meeting, May 23, have been introduced on the home page of the Prime Minister’s office (http://www.kantei.go.jp). According to that source, the majority supported a national site for mourning. Moreover, adjustments were made for the purpose of broadening the definition of those to be mourned, including not merely military men but civilians and even foreigners. The 6th meeting discussed in depth the all-important “ideals” for the mourning site. The draft offered there was practically complete, so here is the text: The numbers of those who died in foreign troubles (wars, incidents) in which since the Meiji Restoration our country was involved and those who have died since the recent great war in order to defend the country’s peace and independence and to protect the country’s security have grown very large, and, unfortunately, it is undeniable that from now on there will be other such deaths. Our country’s present peace and prosperity are built on the sacred lives of those great numbers of people who died-regardless of nationality, race, and so on. So it is necessary, as a country, to pledge to mourn all those who lost their sacred lives and not to give rise through government action to the catastrophe of war; and for the future, to pray for the eternal peace of our country and the world. This is very important for our country, which enjoys peace and occupies an important position as one member of the international society. Based on the above ideals and in order for the whole country to mourn and pray for peace, we think it is important to establish a permanent national site. This draft “statement of ideals” contains virtually no crucial historical reflection on the fact that the wars were wars of aggression. This is because it lacks awareness that it was mainly because of Japan’s aggression that the numbers of Japanese and foreign dead before 1945 were “very large.” To lump together both the Japanese dead and their victims from the Sino-Japanese war and the Asia-Pacific War-wars of aggression-and to name them “sacred dead” who built Japan’s “peace/prosperity” leaves unaddressed the clarification of war guilt and the payment of war compensation. Of course, for the Japanese state that committed the aggression to mourn the dead means to issue the “shall not be repeated” message complete with concrete measures, not simply to speak the words “pray for peace.”

Indeed, the draft “Statement of Ideals” quotes the preamble to the Constitution: “Å resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government.” But that virtually all of the vast number of past dead died hoping to live longer, that they were driven by their country to outrageous death, that is, that the country made them both victims and victimizers-that grim factual awareness is missing from the draft “Statement of Ideals.” So there is not a single word about the core of mourning-that “It shall not be repeated.” Moreover, on the assumption that in the future there will be “new dead” in the cause of peace and safety it extends the reach of mourning to these “new dead,” too. Because it gives the meaning “sacred dead” to these “new dead,” it glorifies these “new dead” and makes them models for the living. Thus via a state site for mourning, the state uses these dead once again. Such manipulation of the dead overlaps the role that Yasukuni, the core of prewar State Shinto, played in mobilizing the living for war via the manipulation of the dead. Together with the absence of historical consciousness, it betrays a shallowness of imagination toward the living.

Such characteristics come to the surface of the draft “Statement of Ideals” for the national site for mourning. This is why the Shinshû izokukai (Association of Shin Buddhist Bereaved; representative: Ôita Yôtetsu) and other groups react to the national site for mourning with a strong sense of crisis. Moreover, if you follow the discussion of the 6th session, all the committee members spoke repeatedly of “praying,” with no sense of unease. Together with the characteristics of the site that appear in the draft “Statement of Ideals,” the frequent use of the word “praying” is evidence that the national site for mourning, supposedly a non-religious site, may become a “new national Yasukuni.” That danger is part and parcel of a national site for mourning.

Not far from Yasukuni Shrine, in a setting of luxuriant trees, is the Chidorigafuchi War Cemetery Garden. I visited it on an early summer afternoon, for the first time in a while. It was, in fact, my second visit. Although not far removed from the cacophonous world of the metropolis, it was very quiet. My first visit three years ago had been close to dusk in early winter, and in the cemetery garden I couldn’t see a single person. And on this visit, on a bright afternoon in early summer, there still were fewer than a dozen. “That’s how it always is. It gets a bit busy only in cherry blossom time. We simply can’t hold a candle to old Yasukuni.” The man who told me this was an elderly official of the Chidorigafuchi Cemetery Garden Association. His voice betrayed no unhappiness at the scarcity of visitors; rather, he seemed to take for granted that Yasukuni was the proper center for mourning the war dead. It was the prewar/wartime thinking unchanged. About 150,000 people visit Chidorigafuchi each year; about 6,000,000 worship at Yasukuni.

Mention a national site for mourning the war dead, and Chidorigafuchi often comes to mind. In its hexagonal crypt it holds (as of May 2002) the ashes of some 348,800 overseas military and military employees who died overseas and had no survivors to receive their ashes. Chidorigafuchi Cemetery Garden was completed in March 1959 and today is administered by the Environment Ministry. The cabinet decision to construct this cemetery garden came in December 1953; it was greeted with great alarm by such groups as Yasukuni Shrine, Urayasukai (Urayasu is an old poetic name for Japan; the organization manages the Gokoku [guardian spirits of the country] shrines around the country. Today its name is Zenkoku gokoku jinjakai) and the Nihon izokukai. Many voices were raised-”Won’t this split the worship of heroic spirits between Yasukuni and the new site?” “If VIPs from abroad go to the new site, they will stop going to Yasukuni-and disagreement about the character of Chidorigafuchi continued. In the event, the cemetery garden is not a site to mourn all war dead, and the decision to proceed came after promises were exchanged between the assistant director of the Nihon izokukai and the assistant director of the Defense Agency that government officials would not invite foreign VIPs to Chidorigafuchi or show it to them. When thoughts of a national site similar to Yasukuni arise, things go jerkily, apparently because Yasukuni, run in prewar and wartime days by the Army and Navy Ministries, was the core site to “console and mourn” the war dead, and because that awareness and that governmental attitude toward Yasukuni have continued even into the postwar era, when Yasukuni became a religious corporation.

Today, though set up by the state, Chidorigafuchi is not a site for all war dead but in essence a tomb for “unknown soldiers”. Still, ceremonies are performed each May, the prime minister and other ministers attend; the remains collected abroad of those who have no survivors are entombed here. It has become customary for the imperial family to attend. To the left of the hexagonal shrine, there is carved in stone a waka Emperor Hirohito composed in the fall of the year of the cemetery garden’s construction: “For the country / they gave their lives- / thinking of them / our throat / constricts.” Whether we think of a national site for mourning or of government involvement in Yasukuni, the phrase “for the country” always springs to mind.

On September 18 each year in the cemetery garden the Jôdo Shin Honganji sect-it has opposed Yasukuni’s role as guardian of the state and the prime minister’s official visits-celebrates a service of mourning for all war dead. Against that background, there has been a complicated history of calls even in the Diet to solve the “Yasukuni problem” by enlarging and changing Chidorigafuchi and making it a replacement for Yasukuni. Current thinking about establishing a national site for mourning has had considerable influence on religious groups that till now have opposed Yasukuni’s role as guardian of the state and “official visits of emperor and prime minister.” Religious opposition was strong to involvement by the state in Yasukuni-the shrine’s role as guardian of the state and the prime minister’s “official visits,” and so on-as carrying on into the present the religious ideology of State Shinto, centering on the emperor and glorifying wars of aggression. But there are also voices of support for state mourning at a non-religious national site for mourning of “Japanese” who died “for the country.” The latest noteworthy movement is the “Committee to Create a New National Site for Mourning,” inaugurated on July 30. The public voice of the committee was made up of twelve people, among them Takeno Itoku, head of the Jôdo Shin Honganji sect; among its other members were lawyers, journalists, scholars, and religious writers. After its inaugural meeting the committee visited the Prime Minister’s Residence that same day and urged the construction of a national site for mourning. The fact that at the heart of the committee is the leader of the Jôdo Shin Honganji sect caused great repercussions within the sect. In particular, the Shinshû izokukai sent a protest in early August addressed to Takeno: this was “an extreme situation for the sect.” The protest raised pressing issues: “Why does the state mourn war dead? Why is state mourning gratitude and respect? Why does the state need such a site? What of the state’s war guilt? Discussion of these basic issues is virtually lacking.” This issue entails extremely serious questions: Why did this church oppose government involvement in Yasukuni? Why as a religious body did it reflect on its wartime history? And so on. On the other hand, the Ôtani sect (Higashi Honganji) of the same Shin Buddhism takes a very critical position on the national site for mourning. So if the decision is made to proceed with the construction of a national site for mourning, there is a real possibility of a split within the religious world that until now has been united “against Yasukuni.”

There is also strong opposition from the right to a national site for mourning. Some of the bereaved feel that Yasukuni is the central site to console/mourn the dead and that no new site is needed. A “People’s Group to Call for Prime Ministerial Visits to Yasukuni Shrine” has come into existence, with Tokyo University professor emeritus Kobori Keiichirô and journalist Gôtô Yukie as promoters, and at its June 11 meeting, it convened a “National People’s Assembly to Oppose Construction of a National Site for Mourning;” some 2,000 people attended. At the assembly Koga Makoto, chair of the Nihon izokukai that has continued to press for the guardian role of Yasukuni and for “official visits” (and former Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic party), sent a message expressing his concern about a national site for mourning. And in an interview in the Asahi (Aug. 9), Koga stated that “Yasukuni Shrine is the only site for worship of the spirits of the war dead. I firmly oppose a new site for consoling the spirits of the dead.”

Criticism of Prime Minister Koizumi’s shrine visit became the immediate occasion for the current consideration of a national site for mourning, but people in the government seem to have had a site in mind from the time they foresaw the likelihood of “new dead” because of Japan’s participation in U. N. peace-keeping operations. For one thing, Yasukuni does not now enshrine the souls of Self Defense Force members who die in the line of duty, and if one calls to mind the Self Defense Forces incident that arose at the Yamaguchi Gokoku Shrine, the constitutional barrier between church and state is quite solid, making it possible for Yasukuni to do so. As lawsuits over the separation of church and state pile up, state involvement in Yasukuni faces a higher hurdle. So if there is to be a new non-religious site, the thinking goes, then it could serve as well for “new dead.” That this view has a suddenly contemporary flavor is because in 1999 the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law was passed and postwar Japan made a sharp turn to become, for the first time, a state that can make war. In the Diet, too, voices had come to be raised calling for a system of registration of the spirits of dead Self Defense Forces members-the systematization of “consolation and mourning.” In the 145th Diet in the same year that the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law was enacted, a series of bad laws was enacted, one after the other, inviting today’s state of affairs: the laws making Kimigayo the national anthem and the Hinomaru the national flag, the law allowing eavesdropping (the communications interception act), and the reform-for-the-worse of the resident registration law.

Amid these developments, Nonaka Hiromu, then Chief Cabinet Secretary, spoke on Aug. 6, 1999, putting on the table the idea of the reorganization of Yasukuni Shrine and construction of a new site: “Prayer for those who became state victims is the state’s responsibility. I call for an environment in which regardless of religion, the entire people are able to console the dead and leaders of the various countries can present wreaths.” This statement is connected to the current concern with a national site for mourning. After the announcement of Nonaka’s proposal, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Kajiyama Seiroku wrote to the Asahi (Aug. 15, 1999) that “he had put a new site on the agenda.” Kajiyama gave as an example Police Officer Takeda Haruyuki, who died on the Cambodian peace-keeping operation, and maintained that as Japan’s international role increases, so will the possibility of deaths, that if it is not possible to gain foreign approval of Yasukuni, then consideration should be given to a new site.

Since the post-9/11 anti-terror law, the danger of “new deaths” has grown ever more real. With the Military Emergency Law, the spiritual mobilization of the people has become important. Sugawara Yôken, executive secretary of the Shinshû izokukai, says: “A national site for mourning is not a replacement for Yasukuni, but there is great danger of its becoming a second Yasukuni.” Even stripped of its religious character, a “second Yasukuni” becomes a ritual contrivance to receive “those who died for the country.”

Watching the progress of the debate on the national site for mourning, Prime Minister Koizumi made his second shrine visit in April, thus showing strong favoritism for Yasukuni. Then on August 8 at a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Residence, he stated clearly that even if a new national site for mourning is completed, “Yasukuni is different,” and he showed no sign of altering his policy of visiting Yasukuni. As the Shinshû izokukai and others fear, Koizumi, it seems, wishes to give to the new national site for mourning the role of a “second Yasukuni”-a non-religious ritual contrivance for the dead (and the living).

Clearly today the postwar state has begun to push very strongly to foster the development of a “citizenry willing to die for the country.” Without doubt there will be greater pressure still if the state of affairs envisioned by the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law comes to fruition. The government is already speaking out to the point of suppressing individual freedoms of thought, conscience, and religion. If in this context a national site for mourning is constructed, we should not see it as resolving “resistance” or as mourning in order that the war “not be repeated.” Rather, we should probably see it as the readying of a contrivance to reconcile the Japanese people to “new deaths.”

Translation by Richard Minear

Leave a comment