Hirohito’s Yasukuni issues, and whether they mean anything today

A memo drafted by the late Emperor Hirohito’s secretary in 1988 indicates that Hirohito purposefully stopped his visits to Yasukuni Shrine after Class A war criminals were added to its list in 1978. Hirohito had visited the shrine eight times between 1945 and 1978, but mysteriously stopped after that, and nobody was ever sure exactly why (although the implication was obvious enough).

After this news broke on Thursday, both Koizumi and potential successor Shinzo Abe stated that they would not change their personal Yasukuni policies, Koizumi characterizing it as an “issue of the heart” and Abe questioning the authoritativeness of the “personal” memo.

This might have seemed like a boon for Yasuo Fukuda, the only major contender for Koizumi’s throne to clearly oppose visiting Yasukuni, but then, just to make things more ridiculous, he decided not to run on Friday night. This makes the race a pretty one-sided game for Abe: while Taku Yamasaki and Koichi Kato continue to lead the opposition to Koizumi and Abe within the LDP, their support is not nearly broad enough at this point to stop Abe from winning the party election in September.

So do Hirohito’s opinions mean anything in today’s Japan? Well, they can certainly be used as ammunition for the anti-Koizumi guns, but they’re certainly not enough to pierce his armor. And if Abe’s current behavior is any indication, it will take better ammunition to bring him down as well.

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8 thoughts on “Hirohito’s Yasukuni issues, and whether they mean anything today”

  1. Both Fukuda and Abe are in the Mori faction and I think Fukuda didn’t want to weaken the faction by challenging Abe to a contest he was likely to lose anyway. That would have played right into the hands of “anti-Mori” representatives such as Kato who are always keen to score hits against Mori and his boys. (Remember the leadership challenge a few years back?)

  2. Finance minister Sadakazu Tanigaki is intent on joining the LDP race, and he seems aware that Yasukuni indeed is a problem. If he runs for the LDP election, Abe’s pro-Yasukuni stance will at least have a contender. IMHO things could get very interesting from now on.

    In the NHK interview this morning, Tanigaki indicated that it is necessary to discuss solutions, including separation of war criminals from Yasukuni Shrine.

    Anyone knows which faction he belongs to?

  3. Tanigaki is the head of the Kochikai. I guess the key to this race is whether the anti-Koizumi forces can muster up enough votes behind one candidate to beat Abe. I can’t really be bothered to check, but I think I remember reading that a few of the groups that were on the fence on who to support have announced that they support Abe’s “Second Challenge” group. I’ve looked at some of the scenarios that need to happen to defeat Abe, and though Fukuda’s stepping out of the race might make it easier to line up behind a non-Mori candidate, it would still require quite a bit of coordination that the factions might not have in them.

  4. Does anyone think the Hirohito memo might highlight the notion that for some there are “two Yasukunis”? If the Emperor wanted to pay his respects to victims of a dysfunctional wartime political system, and not to the criminals enshrined in 1978, should Japanese really feel ambivalent that Koizumi says he is trying to do the same thing? Koizumi’s visit were largely a result of political pragmatism and pandering to the right, but statements he has made when asked about the issue have emphasised the death and suffering of ordinary Japanese at the hands of the wartime Japanese state. He has also flat-out refused to acknowledge the view of history that glorifies Japan’s wartime expansion.

    What’s the buzz about this in Japan? I’m in NZ at the moment and though I can get the papers, I’d like to know if your average joe on the street actually cares about this issue.

  5. Bryce: “. . . statements he has made when asked about the issue have emphasised the death and suffering of ordinary Japanese at the hands of the wartime Japanese state.”

    I’ve certainly heard him talk about the deaths of ordinary Japanese, but never a peep about the domestic government being responsible for them. Koizumi tends to fall squarely in the camp that describes the war as a “massive, inexplicable force that caused so much pain, oh let’s make sure never to have one again!”

    I think the post-Koizumi race is still interesting, if for no other reason than the fact that the next PM is going to have to deal with some huge issues that Jun-chan won’t touch. “Yeah, we’ll have to raise the consumption tax, but not on my watch” he says, and the future leader on whose watch this step does get taken is going to get a serious beat-down in the court of public opinion. I’ve heard some observers claim this as a reason that Abe would not be the next in the top spot, if the party really wanted him there for a long run. Pick someone expendable, have him ram through the unpleasant policies, boot him, and then get the guy you want in place for half a decade or more.

  6. I’m not so sure I agree, Durf,

    “Koizumi tends to fall squarely in the camp that describes the war as a “massive, inexplicable force that caused so much pain, oh let’s make sure never to have one again!””

    That camp you mention actually believes those massive force to be quite explicable in the following terms: Japan’s actions across the Asia Pacific region were facilitated by a weak state that could not control its military and a population that had no historical precedent which would lead them to interfere in the affairs of the central government. But I don’t need to go on about the history, as this tends to be the mainstream view in the west too, at least amongst historians. Suffice it to say it would be pretty hard to blame the “domestic government”, when civilian control had been usurped by an overzealous military.

    Nevertheless, before going to Yasukuni in 2001, Koizumi managed to condemn the “national policy” of “Japan” during its period of “colonial rule and aggression”. Its fairly clear that he sees the Japanese state not “inexplicable forces” as responsible for its wartime aggression.

    “During the war, Japan caused tremendous sufferings to many people of the world including its own people. Following a mistaken national policy during a certain period in the past, Japan imposed, through its colonial rule and aggression, immeasurable ravages and suffering particularly to the people of the neighboring countries in Asia. This has left a still incurable scar to many people in the region.” – Koizumi Jun’ichiro, August 13, 2001.

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