In the United States, the beginnings of wars are often remembered.
Remember the Alamo, Remember the Maine, Remember 9/11 — these are all refrains that will be familiar to anyone who attended history classes in an American grade school. Wars start with big explosions and lead inexorably into years, sometimes decades, of sacrifice of blood and treasure by the American people.
August 15 in Japan is also a day of remembrance of war, but in this case, of a war’s ending and not of its beginning. It was on August 15 that the Japanese government officially accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration and entered into a ceasefire with the Allies.
The Japanese side would go on to sign the instrument of surrender the following month aboard the USS Missouri at anchor in Tokyo Bay, but it was August 15, 1945, when the bombing, shooting, and killing of war finally and mercifully were brought to an end.
August 15 is also the day that people throughout Japan, and from across Asia and the rest of the world, travel to Yasukuni Shrine in downtown Tokyo. It is significant that the gathering at Yasukuni takes place on this day because the people here come to pray for peace, and for the souls of the men and women, and even of the animals who died in the 15 years of hard fighting across East Asia, Southeast Asia, Alaska, and the Pacific.
People born in Japan, in China, in Taiwan, on the Korean Peninsula, and in countries beyond the reach of the Japanese Empire — all who lost their lives in the wars that Japan has fought over the past 150 years — are remembered here, their souls ingathered and given rest.
Yasukuni, as its name implies, is where the nation is made pacific, where the people who died for this nation or for another are honored and remembered.
At the USS Arizona, at the site of the World Trade Center, and at Arlington and the Vietnam Memorial, Americans solemnly call to mind those who died. The same thoughts, same sometimes ragged emotions, fill the hearts of people who come to Yasukuni. It is a place open to all, and dedicated to the peaceful recollection of the dead. No lines are drawn here, no flags are waved. Everyone — the living and the departed — is invited to Yasukuni.
This August 15, JAPAN Forward again visited Yasukuni Shrine to report on the solemnities of the day. We spoke with Masako Ganaha, an Okinawan expert and activist whose home prefecture witnessed the worst fighting on Japanese soil in the entire Fifteen-Year War. Like others from across Japan, Ganaha was here to pay her respects to the fallen.
She commented: “I also have relatives who died during the Okinawan War at Himeyuri. Listening to their stories, and studying the history, one finds out that there are those who loved their families and their country, and sacrificed their lives for them. This made me really feel what a wonderful sentiment that was. As a member of society, I want to create a Japan which would make these people proud.”
We saw people from the United States, from Taiwan, from across Asia and Europe and North America and beyond. As on every other day, Yasukuni on August 15 is a place for reverently gathering...and remembering.
Author: Jason Morgan