From early morning, and under cloudy skies, on August 15th, the 72nd anniversary of the end of World War II, visitors continued to gather at the Yasukuni Shrine grounds in Kudankita, Tokyo. Ahead of the 6 am opening, more than 200 people had queued up in front of the shrine gates, which were embossed with two 1.5-meter-wide chrysanthemum crests. Amid the usual annual happenings, the absence of Cabinet member visitors was unusual.
The Association for Honoring the War Dead (Eireini Kotaeru Kai), and others held the “War Dead Memorial National Meeting” at the shrine grounds from 10:30 am. In the rain, Taizou Terashima, president of the association, “In order [for the shrine] to receive a visit from our current Emperor and Empress, it is imperative that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as the leader of our nation, visits Yasukuni Shrine, normalizes it, and indicates to all the depth of reverence with which the people of the nation hold Yasukuni Shrine.”
Prime Minister Abe has not visited the shrine since his last visit on December 26, 2013.
China reacted vehemently in the wake of the last visit, stating, “It is a public proclamation of renewed militarism for a public figure to visit a shrine venerating Class-A war criminals,” the People’s Daily reported.
“Visiting the shrine would likely be decided in light of the various international ramifications,” Hidehisa Otsuji, president of the Association of Diet Members Visiting Yasukuni Shrine, said on August 15th, about Prime Minister Abe’s decision regarding shrine visits. It is not difficult to understand that amid mounting tensions with North Korea, Japan would aim to avoid souring relations with China.
In past years, the Prime Minister had visited on August 15th, as had current Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Seiko Noda. However, the fact that not one member of the Cabinet made a visit this year perhaps hints that care is being taken to read the mood.
However, this is pointless given the current situation with China. The economic scale of China has long surpassed that of Japan, and China is continuing to expand, building military bases on reclaimed land in the South China Sea and so on. Their defense budget has tripled in the past 10 years, and last year, for the first time, it exceeded 1 trillion yuan (approximately 16 trillion and 500 billion yen), which is more than three times the defense budget of Japan for 2017. As such, it is disingenuous of China to dredge up events from 70 years ago.
The international stage is changing dramatically. On the morning on August 15th, Prime Minister Abe conferred by telephone with United States President President Donald Trump regarding the response to North Korea. One could say that it is rather symbolic that, on the anniversary of the end of the war, the heads of two former enemies, US and Japan, should be confirming the strengthening of their alliance.
Trump, after all, gave that famous policy speech in congress, on February 28th. In the final section of his speech, Trump described William Ryan Owens, 36, a US Navy SEAL who died in Yemen in January: “Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero—battling against terrorism and securing our Nation…. Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity.”
Republican and democratic members alike gave a long, standing ovation to invited guest, widow Carryn Owens. The widow Owens also stood with tears streaming down her face as she looked to heaven.
As I watched this emotional scene live on America’s CNN, where statesmen and the people of the nation praised a hero who died for his country, I realized that the relationship would be maintained.
In February of this year, when Prime Minster Abe visited the US, he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, on the outskirts of Washington. Therefore, this autumn, when President Trump makes his first visit to Japan, I hope he will visit Yasukuni Shrine.
As Prime Minister Abe is rumored to have said to his inner circle, “That would be the best outcome, however….” When the statesmen of Japan and America can mutually praise their heroes, the issue of Yasukuni Shrine will be greatly transformed. Then both China and Korea, having dredged up the past in their repeated criticism of Japan, will surely have to reconsider their anti-Japan strategy.
Takao Harakawa is a staff writer for the Sankei Shimbun Political News Department.
(Click here to read the original story in Japanese.)